Voluntary (endogenous, sustained) covert spatial attention selects relevant sensory information for prioritized processing. The behavioral and neural consequences of such selection have been extensively documented, but its phenomenology has received little empirical investigation. We asked whether voluntary attention affects the subjective appearance of contrast - a fundamental dimension of visual perception. We used a demanding rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) task to direct endogenous attention to a given location and measured perceived contrast at the attended and unattended locations. Attention increased perceived contrast of suprathreshold stimuli and also improved performance on a concurrent orientation discrimination task at the cued location. We ruled out response bias as an alternative account of the pattern of results. Thus, this study establishes that voluntary attention enhances perceived contrast. This phenomenological consequence links behavioral and neurophysiological studies on the effects of attention.
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