Interhemispheric switching mediates perceptual rivalry

Steven Mark Miller, Guang B Liu, Trung Thanh Ngo, Gregory S Hooper, Stephan Riek, Richard G Carson, Jack D Pettigrew

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

100 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Binocular rivalry refers to the alternating perceptual states that occur when the images seen by the two eyes are too different to be fused into a single percept. Logothetis and colleagues have challenged suggestions that this phenomenon occurs early in the visual pathway. They have shown that, in alert monkeys, neurons in the primary visual cortex continue to respond to their preferred stimulus despite the monkey reporting its absence. Moreover, they found that neural activity higher in the visual pathway is highly correlated with the monkey s reported percept. These and other findings suggest that the neural substrate of binocular rivalry must involve high levels, perhaps the same levels involved in reversible figure alternations. Results: We present evidence that activation or disruption of a single hemisphere in human subjects affects the perceptual alternations of binocular rivalry. Unilateral caloric vestibular stimulation changed the ratio of time spent in each competing perceptual state. Transcranial magnetic stimulation applied to one hemisphere disrupted normal perceptual alternations when the stimulation was timed to occur at one phase of the perceptual switch, but not at the other. Furthermore, activation of a single hemisphere by caloric stimulation affected the perceptual alternations of a reversible figure, the Necker cube. Conclusions: Our findings suggest that interhemispheric switching mediates perceptual rivalry. Thus, competition for awareness in both binocular rivalry and reversible figures occurs between, rather than within, each hemisphere. This interhemispheric switch hypothesis has implications for understanding the neural mechanisms of conscious experience and also has clinical relevance as the rate of both types of perceptual rivalry is slow in bipolar disorder (manic depression).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)383 - 392
Number of pages10
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes

Cite this