Thursday, December 13, 2007

Voluntary movements influence what we see

If our left and right eyes are shown different figures, a competition ensues during which we alternatively perceive one or the other of the figures. Maruya et al. do experiments showing that physical body movements that correlate with one of the figures can enhance the duration of the intervals during which that figure is being seen. This is a nice example of the influence of action on perception. Here is their abstract, a figure, and a clip of their discussion:
Converging lines of evidence point to a strong link between action and perception. In this study, we show that this linkage plays a role in controlling the dynamics of binocular rivalry, in which two stimuli compete for perceptual awareness. Observers dichoptically viewed two dynamic rival stimuli while moving a computer mouse with one hand. When the motion of one rival stimulus was consistent with observers' own hand movements, dominance durations of that stimulus were extended and, remarkably, suppression durations of that stimulus were abbreviated. Additional measurements revealed that this change in rivalry dynamics was not attributable to observers' knowledge about the condition under test. Thus, self-generated actions can influence the resolution of perceptual conflict, even when the object being controlled falls outside of visual awareness.

Figure - Schematic depiction of the rivalry stimuli (a) and diagrams illustrating the four kinds of trials (b). In the experiment, the reversed configuration of the stimuli, with the sphere exposed to the left eye and the grating exposed to the right eye, was also used. In (b), each diagram shows the dots' movement, the observer's hand movement, and the observer's perception of the stimuli, as a function of time. The diagrams in the upper row illustrate the sphere-dominant condition, and the diagrams in the lower row illustrate the sphere-suppressed condition; manual (MAN) trials are shown on the left, and the corresponding automatic trials are shown on the right. The dashed orange outlines indicate the period during which sphere rotation followed the rotation in the training phase, and the green arrows show the correspondence between the sphere-rotation profiles in manual and automatic trials (see the text).

It is well established that the dynamics of binocular rivalry are governed by a host of stimulus variables—including contrast, motion, and figural complexity—that, together, fall within a category defined as "stimulus strength." In our study, motor control behaved as if it, too, belonged in this category. But by what means could motor control affect the stimulus strength of a rival target? One reasonable hypothesis can be derived from the widely held view that visually guided actions are mediated by neural events in brain areas forming the so-called dorsal-stream pathway (Goodale & Milner, 1992). Among other things, this pathway is specialized for visuo-motor transformations underlying motor planning of intentional actions (Andersen & Buneo, 2002). It is also known (Fang & He, 2005) that neural activity within this pathway remains strong during both dominance and suppression phases of binocular rivalry, unlike activity in the ventral-stream pathway, where activity fluctuates during rivalry. Thus, it is conceivable that during both dominance and suppression phases, actions and their visual consequences are registered within dorsal-stream structures involved in the control of visually guided actions. Through feedback, lateral interconnections, or both, this dorsal-stream activity, in turn, could modulate neural events in brain areas where rivalry does transpire.

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