Feature-based activation and suppression during binocular rivalry
Mark Vergeer*, Rob van Lier
Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands
a r t i c l ei n f o
Received 11 May 2009
Received in revised form 13 January 2010
a b s t r a c t
In the past decade, effects of pattern coherence have indicated that perception during binocular rivalry
does not result solely from reciprocal inhibitory competition between monocular channels. In this study
we were interested in feature selectivity both during dominance and during suppression. The first exper-
iment shows that a suppressed stimulus perceptually appears earlier when it shares features with a vis-
ible stimulus than when it does not. Subsequently, our second experiment suggests a reversal of this
effect when similarity is exhibited with a suppressed stimulus. These findings hint at a role for both selec-
tive enhancing (Experiment 1) and selective inhibitory cortical mechanisms (Experiment 2) in causing
image rivalry. From a phenomenological perspective these results suggest that we are not only selectively
aware but also selectively unaware of specific features in the visual scene.
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When incompatible information is presented at the same reti-
nal location to the left and the right eye, the input of both eyes
compete for awareness. As a result, parts of the information pre-
sented on the retina are perceptually suppressed. Traditionally,
this so-called binocular suppression has been argued to result from
reciprocal inhibitory competition between monocular channels
(Blake, 1989; Lehky, 1988). This low-level eye rivalry account is
supported by neuropsychological data showing percept-correlated
activity in early visual areas like the LGN (Haynes, Deichmann, &
Rees, 2005; Wunderlich, Schneider, & Kastner, 2005). Although
the important role of low-level monocular inhibitory mechanisms
in binocular rivalry is widely acknowledged in the literature, there
is accumulating evidence showing that, at least to a certain extent,
competition can also occur between (binocular) image repre-
sentations (e.g., Alais & Blake, 1999; Diaz-Caneja, 1928; Kovács,
Papathomas, Yang, & Feher, 1996; Logothetis, Leopold, & Sheinberg,
1996). Such effects in binocular rivalry are commonly being re-
ferred to as image rivalry, as opposed to eye rivalry.
Support for the role of image rivalry can broadly be divided into
two categories. First of all, there is a convincing line of research
showing that as a result of interocular pattern coherence, percep-
tual dominance can be distributed between the input of both eyes.
In a classical study on the role of pattern coherence in binocular
rivalry, Diaz-Caneja (1928, translated by Alais, O’Shea, Mesana-
Alais, & Wilson, 2000) presented two in itself irregular images to
the eyes. Observers indicated that they were not only capable of
seeing the monocular images presented to each eye, but also of
seeing the more regular patterns which could be formed by com-
bining parts of the images presented to each eye. Evidence for
the role of (interocular) pattern coherence in determining percep-
tual dominance has not only been found at a featural level (see also
e.g., Alais & Blake, 1999; Kovács et al., 1996; Ooi & He, 2003; van
Lier & de Weert, 2003). Structural, more Gestalt-like grouping cues
have also been shown to be effective in causing interocular pattern
dominance (De Weert, Snoeren, & Koning, 2005; Suzuki &
Grabowecky, 2002). All these demonstrations of perceptual group-
ing during binocular rivalry seem to support an image competition
view on rivalry in which incompatible pattern representations
compete for awareness at a higher level of visual processing. But,
as argued by Lee and Blake (2004), local eye-based rivalry cannot
be ruled out. Possibly, local competition between monocular
channels dominates the rivalry process with top-down grouping
factors modulating spatial interactions in perceptual dominance.
Papathomas, Kovács, and Conway (2005) showed that the eye of
origin and pattern coherence both play a role in binocular rivalry
and from their results they argue in line with Lee and Blake that
their result point to a theory somewhere between the extreme
eye-based and image-based theories of binocular rivalry.
The influence of image interpretations on binocular rivalry pro-
cesses has also been shown by using the so-called flicker and swap
technique (Logothetis et al., 1996), in which rivaling stimuli are
rapidly and repetitively swapped between the eyes. The basic ef-
fect is that a stimulus can maintain its dominance for a longer per-
iod than would be expected from an account purely based on eye
competition (Bonneh, Sagi, & Karni, 2001; Kang & Blake, 2008;
Lee & Blake, 1999; Logothetis et al., 1996; Pearson & Clifford,
2004). Although this effect is in itself convincing evidence for com-
0042-6989/$ - see front matter ? 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
* Corresponding author. Address: Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and
Behaviour, Centre for Cognition, Radboud University Nijmegen, P.O. Box 9104, 6500
HE Nijmegen, The Netherlands.
E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org (M. Vergeer).
Vision Research 50 (2010) 743–749
Contents lists available at ScienceDirect
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/visres
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M. Vergeer, R. van Lier/Vision Research 50 (2010) 743–749