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PLoS One. 2012;7(2):e31773. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0031773. Epub 2012 Feb 29.

Masking of figure-ground texture and single targets by surround inhibition: a computational spiking model.

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Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behavior, Barcelona, Spain.


A visual stimulus can be made invisible, i.e. masked, by the presentation of a second stimulus. In the sensory cortex, neural responses to a masked stimulus are suppressed, yet how this suppression comes about is still debated. Inhibitory models explain masking by asserting that the mask exerts an inhibitory influence on the responses of a neuron evoked by the target. However, other models argue that the masking interferes with recurrent or reentrant processing. Using computer modeling, we show that surround inhibition evoked by ON and OFF responses to the mask suppresses the responses to a briefly presented stimulus in forward and backward masking paradigms. Our model results resemble several previously described psychophysical and neurophysiological findings in perceptual masking experiments and are in line with earlier theoretical descriptions of masking. We suggest that precise spatiotemporal influence of surround inhibition is relevant for visual detection.

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