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J Vis. 2011 Aug 2;11(9). pii: 1. doi: 10.1167/11.9.1.

Rat performance on visual detection task modeled with divisive normalization and adaptive decision thresholds.

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Deparment of Neurosciences, University of California, San Diego, CA, USA.


Performance on any perceptual task depends on both the perceptual capacity and the decision strategy of the subject. We provide a model to fit both aspects and apply it to data from rats performing a detection task. When rats must detect a faint visual target, the presence of other nearby stimuli ("flankers") increases the difficulty of the task. In this study, we consider two specific factors. First, flankers could diminish the sensory response to the target via spatial contrast normalization in early visual processing. Second, rats may treat the sensory signal caused by the flankers as if it belonged to the target. We call this source confusion, which may be sensory, cognitive, or both. We account for contrast normalization and source confusion by fitting model parameters to the likelihood of the observed behavioral data. We test multiple combinations of target and flanker contrasts using a yes/no detection task. Contrast normalization was crucial to explain the rats' flanker-induced detection impairment. By adding a decision variable to the contrast normalization framework, our model provides a new tool to assess differences in visual or cognitive brain function between normal and abnormal rodents.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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