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Keywords:

  • ambiguous stimuli;
  • binocular rivalry;
  • parietal cortex;
  • perceptual memory;
  • visual cortex

Abstract

Successful interactions with the environment entail interpreting ambiguous sensory information. To address this challenge it has been suggested that the brain optimizes performance through experience. Here we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate whether perceptual experience modulates the cortical circuits involved in visual awareness. Using ambiguous visual stimuli (binocular rivalry or ambiguous structure-from-motion) we were able to disentangle the co-occurring influences of stimulus repetition and perceptual repetition. For both types of ambiguous stimuli we observed that the mere repetition of the stimulus evoked an entirely different pattern of activity modulations than the repetition of a particular perceptual interpretation of the stimulus. Regarding stimulus repetition, decreased fMRI responses were evident during binocular rivalry but weaker during 3-D motion rivalry. Perceptual repetition, on the other hand, entailed increased activity in stimulus-specific visual brain regions – for binocular rivalry in the early visual regions and for ambiguous structure-from-motion in both early as well as higher visual regions. This indicates that the repeated activation of a visual network mediating a particular percept facilitated its later reactivation. Perceptual repetition was also associated with a response change in the parietal cortex that was similar for the two types of ambiguous stimuli, possibly relating to the temporal integration of perceptual information. We suggest that perceptual repetition is associated with a facilitation of neural activity within and between percept-specific visual networks and parietal networks involved in the temporal integration of perceptual information, thereby enhancing the stability of previously experienced percepts.