„The world beyond focused attention is not in total ’darkness’ “ (Cohen & Dennett, 2011). Some aspects of the scene which is gazed upon remain at least partially aware to the observer. Therefore, although attention is focused on a primary task, excess attentional resources may be distributed across the whole scene in a gradual manner. To examine this degraded attention hypothesis in unconscious processing, we developed a response priming paradigm in which subjects were to covertly attend to two possible target locations while primes occurred randomly either at one of the attended positions or at one of six unattended positions located at different distances from the attentional window. Specifically, we expected to find strong priming effects at attended positions versus degraded effects at unattended positions. Results show that priming effects on response times do not differ for attended positions and, as predicted, decrease linearly with increasing distance from the attentional window. Interestingly, priming effects on error rates are larger when the prime occurs at the non-target position. Altogether, these findings suggest degraded processing of unconscious stimuli beyond focal attention as described by Cohen & Dennett (2011) and may be interpreted within the framework of the Perceptual Load Hypothesis - due to the simple nature of the priming task in terms of perceptual load: leftover attentional resources might have spilled over to unattended positions.
M Cohen & D Dennett (2011). Consciousness cannot be separated from function. In Trends in Coginitve Science. 15(8):358-64.