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Vision Res. 2006 Feb;46(3):392-406. Epub 2005 Sep 22.

Stochastic resonance in binocular rivalry.

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Department of Psychology, Institute for Neuroscience, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208, USA.


When a different image is presented to each eye, visual awareness spontaneously alternates between the two images--a phenomenon called binocular rivalry. Because binocular rivalry is characterized by two marginally stable perceptual states and spontaneous, apparently stochastic, switching between them, it has been speculated that switches in perceptual awareness reflect a double-well-potential type computational architecture coupled with noise. To characterize this noise-mediated mechanism, we investigated whether stimulus input, neural adaptation, and inhibitory modulations (thought to underlie perceptual switches) interacted with noise in such a way that the system produced stochastic resonance. By subjecting binocular rivalry to weak periodic contrast modulations spanning a range of frequencies, we demonstrated quantitative evidence of stochastic resonance in binocular rivalry. Our behavioral results combined with computational simulations provided insights into the nature of the internal noise (its magnitude, locus, and calibration) that is relevant to perceptual switching, as well as provided novel dynamic constraints on computational models designed to capture the neural mechanisms underlying perceptual switching.

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