The extent of unconscious semantic processing has been debated. It is well established that semantic information is registered in the absence of awareness induced by inattention. However, it has been debated whether semantic information of invisible stimuli is processed during interocular suppression, a procedure that renders one eye's view invisible by presenting a dissimilar stimulus to the other eye. Inspired by recent evidence demonstrating that reduced attention attenuates interocular suppression, we tested a counterintuitive hypothesis that attention withdrawn from the suppressed target location facilitates semantic processing in the absence of awareness induced by interocular suppression. We obtained an electrophysiological marker of semantic processing (N400 component) while human participants' spatial attention was being manipulated with a cueing paradigm during interocular suppression. We found that N400 modulation was absent when participants' attention was directed to the target location, but present when diverted elsewhere. In addition, the correlation analysis across participants indicated that the N400 amplitude was reduced with more attention being directed to the target location. Together, these results indicate that inattention attenuates interocular suppression and thereby makes semantic processing available unconsciously, reconciling conflicting evidence in the literature. We discuss a tight link among interocular suppression, attention, and conscious awareness.
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