Contextual influence on orientation discrimination of humans and responses of neurons in V1 of alert monkeys

J Neurophysiol. 2000 Feb;83(2):941-54. doi: 10.1152/jn.2000.83.2.941.


We studied the effects of various patterns as contextual stimuli on human orientation discrimination, and on responses of neurons in V1 of alert monkeys. When a target line is presented along with various contextual stimuli (masks), human orientation discrimination is impaired. For most V1 neurons, responses elicited by a line in the receptive field (RF) center are suppressed by these contextual patterns. Orientation discrimination thresholds of human observers are elevated slightly when the target line is surrounded by orthogonal lines. For randomly oriented lines, thresholds are elevated further and even more so for lines parallel to the target. Correspondingly, responses of most V1 neurons to a line are suppressed. Although contextual lines inhibit the amplitude of orientation tuning functions of most V1 neurons, they do not systematically alter the tuning width. Elevation of human orientation discrimination thresholds decreases with increasing curvature of masking lines, so does the inhibition of V1 neuronal responses. A mask made of straight lines yields the strongest interference with human orientation discrimination and produces the strongest suppression of neuronal responses. Elevation of human orientation discrimination thresholds is highest when a mask covers only the immediate vicinity of the target line. Increasing the masking area results in less interference. On the contrary, suppression of neuronal responses in V1 increases with increasing mask size. Our data imply that contextual interference observed in human orientation discrimination is in part directly related to contextual inhibition of neuronal activity in V1. However, the finding that interference with orientation discrimination is weaker for larger masks suggests a figure-ground segregation process that is not located in V1.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Awareness / physiology
  • Discrimination Learning / physiology*
  • Fovea Centralis / cytology
  • Fovea Centralis / physiology
  • Humans
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Male
  • Orientation / physiology*
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology
  • Perceptual Masking / physiology
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Psychophysics
  • Reaction Time / physiology