Stable perception of visually ambiguous patterns

Nature Neuroscience 5 (6):605-609 (2002)
Correspondence should be addressed to David A. Leopold david.leopold@tuebingen.mpg.deDuring the viewing of certain patterns, widely known as ambiguous or puzzle figures, perception lapses into a sequence of spontaneous alternations, switching every few seconds between two or more visual interpretations of the stimulus. Although their nature and origin remain topics of debate, these stochastic switches are generally thought to be the automatic and inevitable consequence of viewing a pattern without a unique solution. We report here that in humans such perceptual alternations can be slowed, and even brought to a standstill, if the visual stimulus is periodically removed from view. We also show, with a visual illusion, that this stabilizing effect hinges on perceptual disappearance rather than on actual removal of the stimulus. These findings indicate that uninterrupted subjective perception of an ambiguous pattern is required for the initiation of the brain-state changes underlying multistable vision.Visual perception involves coordination between sensory sampling of the world and active interpretation of the sensory data. Human perception of objects and scenes is normally stable and robust, but it falters when one is presented with patterns that are inherently ambiguous or contradictory. Under such conditions, vision lapses into a chain of continually alternating percepts, whereby a viable visual interpretation dominates for a few seconds and is then replaced by a rival interpretation. This multistable vision, or 'multistability', is thought to result from destabilization of fundamental visual mechanisms, and has offered valuable insights into how sensory patterns are actively organized and interpreted in the brain1, 2. Despite a great deal of recent research and interest in multistable perception, however, its neurophysiological underpinnings remain poorly understood. Physiological studies have suggested that disambiguation of ambiguous patterns.
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