Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

When Can Attention Influence Binocular Rivalry?

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

When Can Attention Influence Binocular Rivalry?

Article excerpt

Published online: 22 April 2015

© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2015

Abstract Attentional influence over perception is particularly pronounced when sensory stimulation is ambiguous, where attention can reduce stimulus uncertainty and promote a stable interpretation of the world. However, binocular rivalry, an extensively studied visual ambiguity, has proved to be comparatively resistant to attentional modulation. We hypothesize that this apparent inconsistency reflects fluctuations in the degree of unresolved competition during binocular rivalry. Namely, attentional influence over rivalry dynamics should be limited to phases of relatively unresolved stimulus competition, such as ends of individual dominance periods. We found that transient, feature-based cues congruent with the dominant stimulus prolonged dominance durations, while cues matching the suppressed stimulus hastened its return to dominance. Notably, the effect of cues depended on when the cues are presented. Cues presented late, but not early, during a given episode of perceptual dominance influenced rivalry dynamics. This temporal pattern mirrors known changes in the relative competitive dynamics of rival stimuli, revealing that selective effects occur only during temporal windows containing weak resolution of visual competition. In conclusion, these findings reveal that unresolved competition, which gates attention across a variety of domains, is also crucial in determining the susceptibility of binocular rivalry to selective influences.

Keywords Attention: Selective . Binocular vision . Rivalry/ Bistable Perception . Visual context


As our visual system attempts to construct a meaningful representation of the external world, it frequently encounters input with multiple viable interpretations. In these ambiguous cases, other sources of information such as context and attention typically have a significant influence on perception-in fact, the influences of such factors on perception are perhaps greatest, and their effects most useful, in cases where incoming visual information is most uncertain. This has made visual bistability a useful domain within which to investigate effects of context and attention on visual processing. For example, when viewing the bistable Necker cube (Necker, 1832), unambiguous contextual information can strongly bias perception in favor of the surrounding context (Sundareswara & Schrater, 2008). Voluntary attention can also bias perception in favor of the attended cube perspective (Meng & Tong, 2004; Toppino, 2003). Similar modulations are seen for other forms of visual bistability including apparent motion (Suzuki & Peterson, 2000) and structure-from-motion (Hol, Koene, & van Ee, 2003).

Interestingly, binocular rivalry, a broadly studied form of visual bistability that occurs when incompatible images are presented to the two eyes, does not fit this pattern of attentional susceptibility. Observers are largely unable to selectively modulate fluctuations between rival stimuli- except under certain conditions, such as at the onset of rivalry(Chong&Blake,2006; Mitchell, Stoner, & Reynolds, 2004;Ooi&He,1999), or while performing a demanding perceptual task during rivalry (Chong, Tadin, &Blake,2005; Hancock & Andrews, 2007;Helmholtz, 1925). Although the presence of stimulus competition is thought to drive visual attention (Desimone & Duncan, 1995), the stimulus conflict that persists throughout binocular rivalry is hard to bias with attention. For example, if observers are instructed to try to Bhold^ one of two rival percepts dominant, they are unable to do so (Blake, 1988; Meng & Tong, 2004). This differentiates binocular rivalry from other forms of visual bistability, suggesting a difference in the competitive interactions underlying binocular rivalry. Specifically, the low-level nature of interocular interactions that occur during binocular rivalry (Blake, 1989; Stuit, Paffen, Van Der Smagt, & Verstraten, 2014)likely limit its attentional susceptibility (Dieter & Tadin, 2011). …

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