Negligible fronto-parietal BOLD activity accompanying unreportable switches in bistable perception

Nat Neurosci. 2015 Nov;18(11):1672-8. doi: 10.1038/nn.4130. Epub 2015 Oct 5.


The human brain's executive systems have a vital role in deciding and selecting among actions. Selection among alternatives also occurs in the perceptual domain; for instance, when perception switches between interpretations during perceptual bistability. Whether executive systems also underlie this functionality remains debated, with known fronto-parietal concomitants of perceptual switches being variously interpreted as reflecting the switches' cause or as reflecting their consequences. We developed a procedure in which the two eyes receive different inputs and perception demonstrably switches between these inputs, yet the switches themselves are so inconspicuous as to become unreportable, minimizing their executive consequences. Fronto-parietal fMRI BOLD responses that accompanied perceptual switches were similarly minimized in this procedure, indicating that these reflect the switches' consequences rather than their cause. We conclude that perceptual switches do not always rely on executive brain areas and that processes responsible for selection among alternatives may operate outside the brain's executive systems.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Visual Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult