The edge of awareness: Mask spatial density, but not color, determines optimal temporal frequency for continuous flash suppression

Jan Drewes, Weina Zhu, David Melcher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The study of how visual processing functions in the absence of visual awareness has become a major research interest in the vision-science community. One of the main sources of evidence that stimuli that do not reach conscious awareness-and are thus "invisible"- are still processed to some degree by the visual system comes from studies using continuous flash suppression (CFS). Why and how CFS works may provide more general insight into how stimuli access awareness. As spatial and temporal properties of stimuli are major determinants of visual perception, we hypothesized that these properties of the CFS masks would be of significant importance to the achieved suppression depth. In previous studies however, the spatial and temporal properties of the masks themselves have received little study, and masking parameters vary widely across studies, making a metacomparison difficult. To investigate the factors that determine the effectiveness of CFS, we varied both the temporal frequency and the spatial density of Mondrian-style masks. We consistently found the longest suppression duration for a mask temporal frequency of around 6 Hz. In trials using masks with reduced spatial density, suppression was weaker and frequency tuning was less precise. In contrast, removing color reduced mask effectiveness but did not change the pattern of suppression strength as a function of frequency. Overall, this pattern of results stresses the importance of CFS mask parameters and is consistent with the idea that CFS works by disrupting the spatiotemporal mechanisms that underlie conscious access to visual input.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number12
JournalJournal of vision
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018


  • Awareness
  • Color
  • Continuous flash suppression (CFS)
  • Masking
  • Spatial density
  • Spatial frequency
  • Temporal frequency
  • Temporal integration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems


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