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J Opt Soc Am A Opt Image Sci Vis. 2009 Dec;26(12):2612-22. doi: 10.1364/JOSAA.26.002612.

Stochastic variations in sensory awareness are driven by noisy neuronal adaptation: evidence from serial correlations in perceptual bistability.

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Helmholtz Institute Physics of Man, Utrecht University, PaduaLaan 8, 3584 CH, Utrecht, The Netherlands.


When the sensory system is subjected to ambiguous input, perception alternates between interpretations in a seemingly random fashion. Although neuronal noise obviously plays a role, the neural mechanism for the generation of randomness at the slow time scale of the percept durations (multiple seconds) is unresolved. Here significant nonzero serial correlations are reported in series of visual percept durations (to the author's knowledge for the first time accounting for duration impurities caused by reaction time, drift, and incomplete percepts). Serial correlations for perceptual rivalry using structure-from-motion ambiguity were smaller than for binocular rivalry using orthogonal gratings. A spectrum of computational models is considered, and it is concluded that noise in adaptation of percept-related neurons causes the serial correlations. This work bridges, in a physiologically plausible way, widely appreciated deterministic modeling and randomness in experimental observations of visual rivalry.

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