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J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform. 2014 Jun;40(3):948-59. doi: 10.1037/a0035769. Epub 2014 Feb 3.

A magnocellular contribution to conscious perception via temporal object segmentation.

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Research School of Psychology.


The human visual system is continuously confronted with dynamic visual input. One challenge that the visual system must solve, therefore, is recognizing when two distinct objects have appeared at a given location despite their brief presentation and rapid succession, that is, temporal object segmentation. Here we examined the role of magnocellular neurons in this process. We measured temporal object segmentation via object substitution masking (OSM), which reflects the failure to distinguish the target and mask as distinct objects through time. We isolated the selective role of magnocellular neurons by comparing performance under conditions of pulsed luminance pedestals, which are designed to saturate the magnocellular response, with that in a steady-pedestal condition that leaves both magnocellular and parvocellular channels available to process the target. Across two experiments, we found that OSM magnitude was enhanced under pulsed-pedestal conditions, in which the magnocellular response was impaired. This indicates that magnocellular neurons contribute to temporal object segmentation. Given that temporal object segmentation has consequences for which stimuli are consciously perceived, this demonstrates a functional mechanism via which magnocellular neurons contribute to determining the contents conscious perception. Implications for models of specialization of dorsal and ventral cortical streams are discussed.

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