Perception consists of the brain's single best interpretation of the sensory world at a given moment in time. Multiple channels of visual input - be they from the two eyes or from the many parallel visual pathways that originate as early as the retina - must be reconciled to arrive at a unified percept. The fact that this must occur in roughly real time as the visual scene changes poses special challenges and constraints. I investigated two classes of visual processes relevant for the perception of time-varying visual stimuli: prediction, with a probable neural substrate in early visual cortical areas, and parallel processing in the magnocellular (M) and parvocellular (P) pathways.
In Chapters 2 and 3, I asked how prediction and parallel pathways, respectively, contribute to perceptual selection using dynamic binocular rivalry stimuli. In binocular rivalry, incompatible images presented to the two eyes result in just one of the images being selected for awareness at any given time. This bistability makes rivalry a useful tool for the study of perceptual selection. In Chapter 2, we found that predictive context in the form of an unambiguous rotating grating biased perceptual selection during subsequent rivalry towards the expected next grating in the rotation sequence, compared to an orthogonal grating. This provided evidence that a prediction-like process influences perceptual selection during rivalry between gratings, which other work has shown is likely resolved at early stages of visual processing.
In Chapter 3, we studied spatial, temporal, luminance, and chromatic factors influencing perceptual selection during interocular switch rivalry. In this type of rivalry, flickering orthogonal gratings are periodically exchanged between the two eyes, resulting in either the perception of a fast, regular alternation between orthogonally oriented gratings (similar to the display presented to a single eye) or a slow, irregular alternation, a percept that requires integration across the two eyes over time. We found that stimuli biased toward the M pathway increased the prevalence of fast, regular alternations, while stimuli biased toward the P pathway increased the prevalence of slow, irregular alternations. This finding suggested that the M and P pathways can make distinct contributions to perception during binocular rivalry and led us to propose a new framework for understanding perceptual selection during interocular switch rivalry.
Physiological measurement of activity in the M and P pathways can lead to greater understanding of how these pathways contribute to perceptual experience, but methods for measuring functional signals from the M and P pathways of humans have been lacking. Therefore, in Chapter 4, we developed a procedure for functionally mapping the M and P subdivisions of human LGN, the site where these pathways are most clearly segregated, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). We observed a gradient of more M-like to more P-like responses across the LGN. Importantly, this gradient had a spatial layout consistent with known LGN anatomical organization. This new method for localizing the M and P subdivisions of the LGN provides a way forward for investigating the function of these pathways in human visual perception, in both healthy and clinical populations.
In summary, prediction and parallel processing are two classes of mechanisms that contribute to perception of dynamic visual stimuli. Here we have shown how such mechanisms operating at low levels of the visual system can help resolve competition between percepts, thereby affecting the contents of visual awareness. In addition, we developed a method for the physiological study of the M and P LGN subdivisions in the human brain, which is a promising technique for the future investigation of the roles of the M and P pathways in human visual perception, among other applications.