Strong periodic stimuli such as bright flashing lights evoke nonlinear responses in the brain and interact nonlinearly with ongoing cortical activity, but the underlying mechanisms for these phenomena are poorly understood at present. The dominant features of these experimentally observed dynamics are reproduced by the dynamics of a quantitative neural field model subject to periodic drive. Model power spectra over a range of drive frequencies show agreement with multiple features of experimental measurements, exhibiting nonlinear effects including entrainment over a range of frequencies around the natural alpha frequency f(α), subharmonic entrainment near 2f(α), and harmonic generation. Further analysis of the driven dynamics as a function of the drive parameters reveals rich nonlinear dynamics that is predicted to be observable in future experiments at high drive amplitude, including period doubling, bistable phase-locking, hysteresis, wave mixing, and chaos indicated by positive Lyapunov exponents. Moreover, photosensitive seizures are predicted for physiologically realistic model parameters yielding bistability between healthy and seizure dynamics. These results demonstrate the applicability of neural field models to the new regime of periodically driven nonlinear dynamics, enabling interpretation of experimental data in terms of specific generating mechanisms and providing new tests of the theory.
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