Successful performance of a cognitive task depends upon both the quality of the sensory information and the processing resources available to perform that task. Thus, task performance can either be data-limited or process-limited (D. A. Norman and D. G. Bobrow, 1975). Using fMRI, we show that these conceptual distinctions are neurally dissociable: A parieto-frontal network involved in conscious perception is modulated by target interference manipulations that strain attentional processing, but not by equally difficult manipulations that limit the quality of target information. These results suggest that limitations imposed by processing capacity have distinct neural effects from those arising from the quality of sensory input, and provide empirical support for an influential neurobiological theory of consciousness (S. Dehaene, J.-P. Changeux, L. Naccache, J. Sackur, and C. Sergent, 2006).
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