Perceptual History Biases Are Predicted by Early Visual-Evoked Activity

J Neurosci. 2023 May 24;43(21):3860-3875. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1451-22.2023. Epub 2023 Apr 21.


What we see in the present is affected by what we saw in the recent past. Serial dependence, a bias making a current stimulus appear more similar to a previous one, has been indeed shown to be ubiquitous in vision. At the neural level, serial dependence is accompanied by a signature of stimulus history (i.e., past stimulus information) emerging from early visual-evoked activity. However, whether this neural signature effectively reflects the behavioral bias is unclear. Here we address this question by assessing the neural (electrophysiological) and behavioral signature of stimulus history in human subjects (both male and female), in the context of numerosity, duration, and size perception. First, our results show that while the behavioral effect is task-dependent, its neural signature also reflects task-irrelevant dimensions of a past stimulus, suggesting a partial dissociation between the mechanisms mediating the encoding of stimulus history and the behavioral bias itself. Second, we show that performing a task is not a necessary condition to observe the neural signature of stimulus history, but that in the presence of an active task such a signature is significantly amplified. Finally, and more importantly, we show that the pattern of brain activity in a relatively early latency window (starting at ∼35-65 ms after stimulus onset) significantly predicts the behavioral effect. Overall, our results thus demonstrate that the encoding of past stimulus information in neural signals does indeed reflect serial dependence, and that serial dependence occurs at a relatively early level of visual processing.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT What we perceive is determined not only by the information reaching our sensory organs, but also by the context in which the information is embedded. What we saw in the recent past (perceptual history) can indeed modulate the perception of a current stimulus in an attractive way, a bias that is ubiquitous in vision. Here we show that this bias can be predicted by the pattern of brain activity reflecting the encoding of past stimulus information, very early after the onset of a stimulus. This in turn suggests that the integration of past and present sensory information mediating the attractive bias occurs early in the visual processing stream, and likely involves early visual cortices.

Keywords: EEG; magnitude perception; perceptual history; serial dependence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bias
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Visual Perception* / physiology