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Serial dependence in visual perception

Nature Neuroscience volume 17, pages 738743 (2014) | Download Citation

Abstract

Visual input often arrives in a noisy and discontinuous stream, owing to head and eye movements, occlusion, lighting changes, and many other factors. Yet the physical world is generally stable; objects and physical characteristics rarely change spontaneously. How then does the human visual system capitalize on continuity in the physical environment over time? We found that visual perception in humans is serially dependent, using both prior and present input to inform perception at the present moment. Using an orientation judgment task, we found that, even when visual input changed randomly over time, perceived orientation was strongly and systematically biased toward recently seen stimuli. Furthermore, the strength of this bias was modulated by attention and tuned to the spatial and temporal proximity of successive stimuli. These results reveal a serial dependence in perception characterized by a spatiotemporally tuned, orientation-selective operator—which we call a continuity field—that may promote visual stability over time.

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Acknowledgements

We thank J. Shankey for assistance with data collection, and G. Maus, S. Teng and E. Whitney for comments on the manuscript. This work was supported in part by grants from the US National Institutes of Health (EY018216) and the National Science Foundation (1245461) to D.W.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley, California, USA.

    • Jason Fischer
    •  & David Whitney
  2. Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.

    • Jason Fischer
  3. McGovern Institute for Brain Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.

    • Jason Fischer
  4. Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, University of California, Berkeley, California, USA.

    • David Whitney
  5. Vision Science Group, University of California, Berkeley, California, USA.

    • David Whitney

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Contributions

J.F. and D.W. designed the experiments. J.F. collected the data and carried out the analyses. J.F. and D.W. wrote the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jason Fischer.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nn.3689

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