Cortical mechanisms of multistable perception

Anthony Movshon, New York University

Some visual patterns can be seen in more than one way, like the famous Necker cube which reverses its 3D orientation spontaneously. These “multistable” stimuli are especially useful for the study of brain mechanisms of perception, because identical stimuli can give rise to different percepts, giving us direct access to the mental states that underlie perception. We plan to use this access to explore the areas of the monkey brain that control switches in perceptual state. We will use three-component moving “plaid” patterns because we know that they are processed by a well-studied area, MT, which we have studied in the past. We plan to extend these observations by measuring the activity of multiple neurons simultaneously, and by relating them to the animals’ reports of changes in stimulus appearance. MT is certainly not the only brain region involved in perceptual multistability, though it might show related activity. We will therefore also record from areas that are likely to control perceptual switches, investigating how neuronal activity in those areas drives changes in the monkey’s perceptual state. Our work will not only shed light on neural activity in the visual system and its perceptual and behavioral consequences, but will also broader links between brain activity and behavior.