Event Abstract

On the neural mechanisms of binocular rivalry

  • 1 Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Germany
  • 2 University of Manchester, United Kingdom

Binocular rivalry is scientifically attractive because it allows the study of an entirely subjective experience using objective measurements: During rivalry the visual percept changes dramatically – from one image to another – while the two stimuli presented to the eyes remain constant. There are at least two aspects whose neural origin would be worthwhile understanding: 1. The mechanisms that lead to the stochastic, spontaneous, and sometimes abrupt alternations of the percept from one stimulus to the other; 2. The mechanisms that keep one stimulus dominant, perceived, and the other suppressed. Previous psychophysical studies have elegantly demonstrated that both monocular and binocular sites contribute to perceptual alternations and to perceptual dominance. Recordings from single neurons, from monocular cells in V1 to cells in the prefrontal cortex show signals representing both the suppressed as well as the dominant stimuli. The proportion of neurons exhibiting percept-modulated responses rises from V1, through V4/V5, IT to prefrontal cortex. Additionally, some studies have reported that certain bands of local field potentials in V1 contain more information about the percept than spikes, while fMRI results in the human brain even show perceptual modulations in the LGN. Like psychophysics, physiology points toward a potentially complex interaction of several neural sites involved in rivalry. We will present the latest recordings from hundreds of neurons in V1, as well as initial recordings from prefrontal cortex. We will mainly focus however, on new psychophysical results shedding light on the eye-versus-percept debate. These results suggest a time-dependence of eye and percept contributions in binocular rivalry. During a dominance period, it appears that it is initially a given monocular channel that has major influence on dominance, regardless of the percept. Over time, this reverses, with image-related, eye-independent processes increasingly controlling any perceptual switch. Our results lead us to suggest that monocular effects – as observed here and in previous studies – may directly depend on higher-level effects and vice versa, because monocular as well as higher-level perceptual influences on dominance vary in parallel but with opposite signs over time. Therefore, the monocular and binocular effects observed in binocular rivalry may reflect different ends of a single process affecting several neural stages. A potential model could be that an initially strong stimulus representation is stabilized by a reinforcing, noise-reducing loop between binocular and monocular stages. As the stability of this process weakens, both the monocular channel loses influence, and the binocular stimulus representation weakens, increasingly favoring a perceptual switch.

Conference: 10th International Conference on Cognitive Neuroscience, Bodrum, Turkey, 1 Sep - 5 Sep, 2008.

Presentation Type: Oral Presentation

Topic: Symposium 11: Visual consciousness at different levels of the brain

Citation: Bartels A, Panagiotaropoul T, Keliris G and Logothetis N (2008). On the neural mechanisms of binocular rivalry. Front. Hum. Neurosci. Conference Abstract: 10th International Conference on Cognitive Neuroscience. doi: 10.3389/conf.neuro.09.2009.01.048

Received: 27 Nov 2008; Published Online: 27 Nov 2008.

* Correspondence: Andreas Bartels, Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Tübingen, Germany, andreas.bartels@tuebingen.mpg.de

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