Top-down modulation in human visual cortex predicts the stability of a perceptual illusion

J Neurophysiol. 2015 Feb 15;113(4):1063-76. doi: 10.1152/jn.00338.2014. Epub 2014 Nov 19.


Conscious perception sometimes fluctuates strongly, even when the sensory input is constant. For example, in motion-induced blindness (MIB), a salient visual target surrounded by a moving pattern suddenly disappears from perception, only to reappear after some variable time. Whereas such changes of perception result from fluctuations of neural activity, mounting evidence suggests that the perceptual changes, in turn, may also cause modulations of activity in several brain areas, including visual cortex. In this study, we asked whether these latter modulations might affect the subsequent dynamics of perception. We used magnetoencephalography (MEG) to measure modulations in cortical population activity during MIB. We observed a transient, retinotopically widespread modulation of beta (12-30 Hz)-frequency power over visual cortex that was closely linked to the time of subjects' behavioral report of the target disappearance. This beta modulation was a top-down signal, decoupled from both the physical stimulus properties and the motor response but contingent on the behavioral relevance of the perceptual change. Critically, the modulation amplitude predicted the duration of the subsequent target disappearance. We propose that the transformation of the perceptual change into a report triggers a top-down mechanism that stabilizes the newly selected perceptual interpretation.

Keywords: beta oscillations; bistable perception; brain dynamics; brain state; perceptual decision-making.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Beta Rhythm
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Optical Illusions*
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*