The timing of vision - how neural processing links to different temporal dynamics

Timothée Masquelier, Larissa Albantakis, Gustavo Deco

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


In this review, we describe our recent attempts to model the neural correlates of visual perception with biologically inspired networks of spiking neurons, emphasizing the dynamical aspects. Experimental evidence suggests distinct processing modes depending on the type of task the visual system is engaged in. A first mode, crucial for object recognition, deals with rapidly extracting the glimpse of a visual scene in the first 100 ms after its presentation. The promptness of this process points to mainly feedforward processing, which relies on latency coding, and may be shaped by spike timing-dependent plasticity (STDP). Our simulations confirm the plausibility and efficiency of such a scheme. A second mode can be engaged whenever one needs to perform finer perceptual discrimination through evidence accumulation on the order of 400 ms and above. Here, our simulations, together with theoretical considerations, show how predominantly local recurrent connections and long neural time-constants enable the integration and build-up of firing rates on this timescale. In particular, we review how a non-linear model with attractor states induced by strong recurrent connectivity provides straightforward explanations for several recent experimental observations. A third mode, involving additional top-down attentional signals, is relevant for more complex visual scene processing. In the model, as in the brain, these top-down attentional signals shape visual processing by biasing the competition between different pools of neurons. The winning pools may not only have a higher firing rate, but also more synchronous oscillatory activity. This fourth mode, oscillatory activity, leads to faster reaction times and enhanced information transfers in the model. This has indeed been observed experimentally. Moreover, oscillatory activity can format spike times and encode information in the spike phases with respect to the oscillatory cycle. This phenomenon is referred to as "phase-of-firing coding," and experimental evidence for it is accumulating in the visual system. Simulations show that this code can again be efficiently decoded by STDP. Future work should focus on continuous natural vision, bio-inspired hardware vision systems, and novel experimental paradigms to further distinguish current modeling approaches.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberArticle 151
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberJUN
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Attention
  • Decision making
  • Neural coding
  • Neurodynamics
  • Oscillations
  • Spiking neurons
  • STDP
  • Vision

Cite this