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Neuronal correlates of visibility and invisibility in the primate visual system

Abstract

A brief visual target stimulus may be rendered invisible if it is immediately preceded or followed by another stimulus. This class of illusions, known as visual masking, may allow insights into the neural mechanisms that underlie visual perception. We have therefore explored the temporal characteristics of masking illusions in humans, and compared them with corresponding neuronal responses in the primary visual cortex of awake and anesthetized monkeys. Stimulus parameters that in humans produce forward masking (in which the mask precedes the target) suppress the transient on-response to the target in monkey visual cortex. Those that produce backward masking (in which the mask comes after the target) inhibit the transient after-discharge, the excitatory response that occurs just after the disappearance of the target. These results suggest that, for targets that can be masked (those of short duration), the transient neuronal responses associated with onset and turning off of the target may be important in its visibility.

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Figure 1: Experimental design.
Figure 2: Psychophysical measurements of the timing parameters important for visual masking.
Figure 3: Individual (a–c) and averaged (d–f) responses of 30 neurons in area V-1 of alert rhesus monkey, plotted with 5-ms bin width. Each cell was tested with at least 50 stimulus presentations for each condition.
Figure 4: Multi-unit recording from upper layers of area V-1 in an anesthetized rhesus monkey.
Figure 5: A multi-unit recording from layer 4B of an anesthetized squirrel monkey, showing responses to a longer-duration target (target duration, 334 msec; mask duration, 84 msec).

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Acknowledgements

We thank David C. Freeman, Gail Robertson, Frederic Russo, and Michael LaFratta for technical and administrative assistance. We also thank David Hubel, Earl Miller, Susana Martinez-Conde, Martin Usrey, John Reppas, Elio Raviola, Richard Born, Rodney D. Boyum, Bruce Bean, Raul Krauss, and Robert Desimone for their comments on this manuscript. This project was funded by grants from the NIH and Charles A. Dana Foundation to MSL, and training grants from the NIH, the Harvard Mahoney Neuroscience Institute, and the Sackler Foundation to SLM.

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Correspondence to Stephen L. Macknik.

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Macknik, S., Livingstone, M. Neuronal correlates of visibility and invisibility in the primate visual system. Nat Neurosci 1, 144–149 (1998). https://doi.org/10.1038/393

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/393

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