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Concept: Binocular rivalry


Mounting physiological and behavioral evidence has shown that the detectability of a visual stimulus can be enhanced by a simultaneously presented sound. The mechanisms underlying these cross-sensory effects, however, remain largely unknown. Using continuous flash suppression (CFS), we rendered a complex, dynamic visual stimulus (i.e., a talking face) consciously invisible to participants. We presented the visual stimulus together with a suprathreshold auditory stimulus (i.e., a voice speaking a sentence) that either matched or mismatched the lip movements of the talking face. We compared how long it took for the talking face to overcome interocular suppression and become visible to participants in the matched and mismatched conditions. Our results showed that the detection of the face was facilitated by the presentation of a matching auditory sentence, in comparison with the presentation of a mismatching sentence. This finding indicates that the registration of audiovisual correspondences occurs at an early stage of processing, even when the visual information is blocked from conscious awareness.

Concepts: Consciousness, Detection theory, Awareness, Face, Presentation of Mary, Self-awareness, Speech, Binocular rivalry


Binocular rivalry (BR) and motion-induced blindness (MIB) are two phenomena of visual awareness where perception alternates between multiple states despite constant retinal input. Both phenomena have been extensively studied, but the underlying processing remains unclear. It has been suggested that BR and MIB involve the same neural mechanism, but how the two phenomena compete for visual awareness in the same stimulus has not been systematically investigated. Here we introduce BR in a dichoptic stimulus display that can also elicit MIB and examine fluctuations of visual awareness over the course of each trial. Exploiting this paradigm we manipulated stimulus characteristics that are known to influence MIB and BR. In two experiments we found that effects on multistable percepts were incompatible with the idea of a common oscillator. The results suggest instead that local and global stimulus attributes can affect the dynamics of each percept differently. We conclude that the two phenomena of visual awareness share basic temporal characteristics but are most likely influenced by processing at different stages within the visual system.

Concepts: Nervous system, Understanding, Visual perception, Perception, Consciousness, Gestalt psychology, Multistable perception, Binocular rivalry


Stereopsis is the rich impression of three-dimensionality, based on binocular disparity-the differences between the two retinal images of the same world. However, a substantial proportion of the population is stereo-deficient, and relies mostly on monocular cues to judge the relative depth or distance of objects in the environment. Here we trained adults who were stereo blind or stereo-deficient owing to strabismus and/or amblyopia in a natural visuomotor task-a ‘bug squashing’ game-in a virtual reality environment. The subjects' task was to squash a virtual dichoptic bug on a slanted surface, by hitting it with a physical cylinder they held in their hand. The perceived surface slant was determined by monocular texture and stereoscopic cues, with these cues being either consistent or in conflict, allowing us to track the relative weighting of monocular versus stereoscopic cues as training in the task progressed. Following training most participants showed greater reliance on stereoscopic cues, reduced suppression and improved stereoacuity. Importantly, the training-induced changes in relative stereo weights were significant predictors of the improvements in stereoacuity. We conclude that some adults deprived of normal binocular vision and insensitive to the disparity information can, with appropriate experience, recover access to more reliable stereoscopic information.This article is part of the themed issue ‘Vision in our three-dimensional world’.

Concepts: Vision, Depth perception, Binocular vision, Binocular rivalry, Correspondence problem, Stereoscopy, Stereopsis, Autostereogram


Binocular rivalry and cross-orientation suppression are well-studied forms of competition in visual cortex, but models of these two types of competition are in tension with one another. Binocular rivalry occurs during the presentation of dichoptic grating stimuli, where two orthogonal gratings presented separately to the two eyes evoke strong alternations in perceptual dominance. Cross-orientation suppression occurs during the presentation of plaid stimuli, where the responses to a component grating presented to both eyes is weakened by the presence of a superimposed orthogonal grating. Conventional models of rivalry that rely on strong competition between orientation-selective neurons incorrectly predict rivalry between the components of plaids. Lowering the inhibitory weights in such models reduces rivalry for plaids, but also reduces it for dichoptic gratings. Using an exhaustive grid search, we show that this problem cannot be solved simply by adjusting the parameters of the model. Instead, we propose a robust class of models that rely on ocular opponency neurons, previously proposed as a mechanism for efficient stereo coding, to yield rivalry only for dichoptic gratings, not for plaids. This class of models reconciles models of binocular rivalry with the divisive normalization framework that has been used to explain cross-orientation. Our model makes novel predictions that we confirmed with psychophysical tests.

Concepts: Brain, Visual perception, Grating, Binocular vision, Binocular rivalry


To evaluate the perception of three-dimensional (3D) shape in patients with strabismus and the contributions of stereopsis and monocular cues to this perception.

Concepts: Depth perception, Binocular vision, Binocular rivalry, Stereoscopy, Stereopsis, 3-D film, Autostereogram, Binoculars


The self-regulation of brain activation via neurofeedback training offers a method to study the relationship between brain areas and perception in a more direct manner than the conventional mapping of brain responses to different types of stimuli. The current proof-of-concept study aimed to demonstrate that healthy volunteers can self-regulate activity in the parahippocampal place area (PPA) over the fusiform face area (FFA). Both areas are involved in higher order visual processing and are activated during the imagery of scenes and faces respectively. Participants (N=9) were required to upregulate PPA relative to FFA activity, and all succeeded at the task, with imagery of scenes being the most commonly reported mental strategy. A control group (N=8) underwent the same imagery and testing procedure, albeit without neurofeedback, in a mock MR scanner to account for any non-specific training effects. The upregulation of PPA activity occurred concurrently with activation of prefrontal and parietal areas, which have been associated with ideation and mental image generation. We tested whether successful upregulation of the PPA relative to FFA had consequences on perception by assessing bistable perception of faces and houses in a binocular rivalry task (before and after the scanning sessions) and categorization of faces and scenes presented in transparent composite images (during scanning, interleaved with the self-regulation blocks). Contrary to our expectations, upregulation of the PPA did not alter the duration of face or house perception in the rivalry task and response speed and accuracy in the categorisation task. This conclusion was supported by the results of another control experiment (N=10 healthy participants) that involved intensive exposure to category-specific stimuli and did not show any behavioural or perceptual changes. We conclude that differential self-regulation of higher visual areas can be achieved, but that perceptual biases under conditions of stimulus rivalry are relatively robust against such internal modulation of localised brain activity. This study sets the basis for future investigations of perceptual and behavioural consequences of localised self-regulation of neural activity.

Concepts: Scientific method, Psychology, Electroencephalography, Perception, Mind, Multistable perception, Binocular rivalry, Neurofeedback


Visual phenomena demonstrating striking perceptual disappearances of salient stimuli have fascinated researchers because of their utility in identifying neural processes that underlie subjective visibility and invisibility. Motion-induced blindness (MIB) is appealing for such purposes because it, like a class of ostensibly related paradigms such as binocular rivalry, features periods of unequivocal subjective disappearances despite constant physical stimulation. It remains unclear, however, exactly how the mechanisms that cause MIB are related to subjectively observed fluctuations in visual awareness. To address this question, we used continuous flash suppression (CFS) to present the MIB stimulus outside visual awareness. Results indicated that MIB occasionally reappeared from suppression with its salient yellow target absent. To quantify this observation, we measured reaction times (RTs) to detect the yellow dot target following visible or perceptually suppressed MIB and indeed found no difference in RTs between these conditions. We also provide evidence that MIB fluctuations can occur without attention. In sum, these experiments indicate that MIB fluctuations are effectively changes in stimulus strength, which under typical conditions result in unmistakable subjective disappearances, but are not inherently fluctuations in stimulus visibility. More broadly, these results challenge the assumed privileged link between bistable stimuli and visual awareness.

Concepts: Nervous system, Scientific method, Causality, Observation, Consciousness, Philosophy of science, Binocular rivalry, Flash suppression


Studies indicate that conscious perception is related to changes in neural activity within a time window that varies between 130 and 320 msec after stimulus presentation, yet it is not known whether such neural correlates of conscious perception are stable across time. Here, we examined the generalization across time within individuals and across different individuals. We trained classification algorithms to decode conscious perception from neural activity recorded during binocular rivalry using magnetoencephalography (MEG). The classifiers were then used to predict the perception of the same participants during different recording sessions either days or years later as well as between different participants. No drop in decoding accuracy was observed when decoding across years compared with days, whereas a large drop in decoding accuracy was found for between-participant decoding. Furthermore, underlying percept-specific MEG signals remained stable in terms of latency, amplitude, and sources within participants across years, whereas differences were found in all of these domains between individuals. Our findings demonstrate that the neural correlates of conscious perception are stable across years for adults, but differ across individuals. Moreover, the study validates decoding based on MEG data as a method for further studies of correlations between individual differences in perceptual contents and between-participant decoding accuracies.

Concepts: Cognition, Sense, Mind, Consciousness, Qualia, Philosophy of perception, Multistable perception, Binocular rivalry


We sought brain activity that predicts visual consciousness.

Concepts: Brain, Visual perception, Consciousness, Binocular rivalry


Alternating conscious visual perception of bistable stimuli is influenced by several factors. In order to understand the effect of negative valence, we tested the effect of two types of aversive conditioning on dominance durations in binocular rivalry. Participants received either aversive classical conditioning of the stimuli shown alone between rivalry blocks, or aversive percept conditioning of one of the two possible perceptual choices during rivalry. Both groups showed successful aversive conditioning according to skin conductance responses and affective valence ratings. However, while classical conditioning led to an immediate but short-lived increase in dominance durations of the conditioned stimulus, percept conditioning yielded no significant immediate effect but tended to decrease durations of the conditioned percept during extinction. These results show dissociable effects of value learning on perceptual inference in situations of perceptual conflict, depending on whether learning relates to the decision between conflicting perceptual choices or the sensory stimuli per se.

Concepts: Visual perception, Visual system, Perception, Consciousness, Classical conditioning, Experimental psychology, Multistable perception, Binocular rivalry