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Stable perception of visually ambiguous patterns


During the viewing of certain patterns, widely known as ambiguous or puzzle figures, perception lapses into a sequence of spontaneous alternations, switching every few seconds between two or more visual interpretations of the stimulus. Although their nature and origin remain topics of debate, these stochastic switches are generally thought to be the automatic and inevitable consequence of viewing a pattern without a unique solution. We report here that in humans such perceptual alternations can be slowed, and even brought to a standstill, if the visual stimulus is periodically removed from view. We also show, with a visual illusion, that this stabilizing effect hinges on perceptual disappearance rather than on actual removal of the stimulus. These findings indicate that uninterrupted subjective perception of an ambiguous pattern is required for the initiation of the brain-state changes underlying multistable vision.

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Figure 1: Stimuli used in the study.
Figure 2: Effects of intermittent presentation on perception of a RS rotating around the horizontal axis (11 subjects).
Figure 3: Factors contributing to stabilization of the RS.
Figure 4: Stabilization of different bistable patterns.
Figure 5: Effect of subjective disappearance on perceptual reversal of the RSt.


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The authors would like to thank M. Sereno for suggestions and help with the structure from motion stimuli, A. Gail for discussion regarding the binocular rivalry experiment and J. Werner for technical assistance. This work was supported by the Max Planck Society.

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Correspondence to David A. Leopold.

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Leopold, D., Wilke, M., Maier, A. et al. Stable perception of visually ambiguous patterns. Nat Neurosci 5, 605–609 (2002).

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