Awareness and Integration: Understanding the Challenges of Inferring Multisensory Integration Outside of Awareness
Multisensory integration describes the cognitive processes by which information from various perceptual domains is combined to create coherent percepts. For consciously aware perception, multisensory integration can be inferred when information in one perceptual domain influences subjective experience in another. Yet the relationship between integration and awareness is not well understood. One current question is whether multisensory integration can occur in the absence of perceptual awareness. Because there is subjective experience for unconscious perception, researchers have had to develop novel tasks to infer integration indirectly. For instance, Palmer and Ramsey (2012) presented auditory recordings of spoken syllables alongside videos of faces speaking either the same or different syllables, while masking the videos to prevent visual awareness. The conjunction of matching voices and faces predicted the location of a subsequent Gabor grating (target) on each trial. Participants indicated the location/orientation of the target more accurately when it appeared in the cued location (80% chance), thus the authors inferred that auditory and visual speech events were integrated in the absence of visual awareness. In this thesis, I investigated whether these findings generalise to the integration of auditory and visual expressions of emotion. In Experiment 1, I presented spatially informative cues in which congruent facial and vocal emotional expressions predicted the target location, with and without visual masking. I found no evidence of spatial cueing in either awareness condition. To investigate the lack of spatial cueing, in Experiment 2, I repeated the task with aware participants only, and had half of those participants explicitly report the emotional prosody. A significant spatial-cueing effect was found only when participants reported emotional prosody, suggesting that audiovisual congruence can cue spatial attention during aware perception. It remains unclear whether audiovisual congruence can cue spatial attention without awareness, and whether such effects genuinely imply multisensory integration.