United we sense, divided we fail: context-driven perception of ambiguous visual stimuli.
SourcePhilosophical Transactions - Royal Society. Biological Sciences, 367, 1591, (2012), pp. 932-941
Article / Letter to editor
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Philosophical Transactions - Royal Society. Biological Sciences
SubjectDCN MP - Plasticity and memory
Ambiguous visual stimuli provide the brain with sensory information that contains conflicting evidence for multiple mutually exclusive interpretations. Two distinct aspects of the phenomenological experience associated with viewing ambiguous visual stimuli are the apparent stability of perception whenever one perceptual interpretation is dominant, and the instability of perception that causes perceptual dominance to alternate between perceptual interpretations upon extended viewing. This review summarizes several ways in which contextual information can help the brain resolve visual ambiguities and construct temporarily stable perceptual experiences. Temporal context through prior stimulation or internal brain states brought about by feedback from higher cortical processing levels may alter the response characteristics of specific neurons involved in rivalry resolution. Furthermore, spatial or crossmodal context may strengthen the neuronal representation of one of the possible perceptual interpretations and consequently bias the rivalry process towards it. We suggest that contextual influences on perceptual choices with ambiguous visual stimuli can be highly informative about the neuronal mechanisms of context-driven inference in the general processes of perceptual decision-making.
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