Does visual attention drive the dynamics of bistable perception?

Atten Percept Psychophys. 2016 Oct;78(7):1861-73. doi: 10.3758/s13414-016-1143-2.


How does attention interact with incoming sensory information to determine what we perceive? One domain in which this question has received serious consideration is that of bistable perception: a captivating class of phenomena that involves fluctuating visual experience in the face of physically unchanging sensory input. Here, some investigations have yielded support for the idea that attention alone determines what is seen, while others have implicated entirely attention-independent processes in driving alternations during bistable perception. We review the body of literature addressing this divide and conclude that in fact both sides are correct-depending on the form of bistable perception being considered. Converging evidence suggests that visual attention is required for alternations in the type of bistable perception called binocular rivalry, while alternations during other types of bistable perception appear to continue without requiring attention. We discuss some implications of this differential effect of attention for our understanding of the mechanisms underlying bistable perception, and examine how these mechanisms operate during our everyday visual experiences.

Keywords: Attention: Divided Attention and Inattention; Binocular vision: Rivalry/Bistable Perception; Visual perception.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attention*
  • Humans
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Visual Perception*