This study attempts to isolate the underlying processing resources of visual attention from the ‘cognitive supervision’—working memory, decision processes, but especially awareness—that typically accompanies their allocation. To decouple them, we used the motion aftereffect (MAE) as a passive assay of resource allocation. In our main condition, observers were presented with an adapting field, but did not attend to it. Instead their effort was directed to an engrossing auditory two-back memory task. Consequently, observers had no consistent awareness of the adaptor, nor were able to make accurate judgements about its luminance, but nonetheless had MAE's no smaller than those induced when the adaptor was ‘fully attended’. Similarly to when object- or feature-based attention spreads unwittingly, attention was allocated automatically to the adaptor, without requiring nor engaging executive control or awareness.