The neurophysiology of backward visual masking: Information analysis

Rolls, E. T., Tovee, M. J. and Panzeri, S. (1999) The neurophysiology of backward visual masking: Information analysis. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 11 (3). pp. 300-311. ISSN 0898-929X

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Backward masking can potentially provide evidence of the time needed for visual processing, a fundamental constraint that must be incorporated into computational models of vision. Although backward masking has been extensively used psychophysically, there is little direct evidence for the effects of visual masking on neuronal responses. To investigate the effects of a backward masking paradigm on the responses of neurons in the temporal visual cortex, we have shown that the response of the neurons is interrupted by the mask. Under conditions when humans can just identify the stimulus, with stimulus onset asynchronies (SOA) of 20 msec, neurons in macaques respond to their best stimulus for approximately 30 msec. We now quantify the information that is available from the responses of single neurons under backward masking conditions when two to six faces were shown. We show that the information available is greatly decreased as the mask is brought closer to the stimulus. The decrease is more marked than the decrease in firing rate because it is the selective part of the firing that is especially attenuated by the mask, not the spontaneous firing, and also because the neuronal response is more variable at short SOAs. However, even at the shortest SOA of 20 msec, the information available is on average 0.1 bits. This compares to 0.3 bits with only the 16-msec target stimulus shown and a typical value for such neurons of 0.4 to 0.5 bits with a 500 msec stimulus. The results thus show that considerable information is available from neuronal responses even under backward masking conditions that allow the neurons to have their main response in 30 msec. This provides evidence for how rapid the processing of visual information is in a cortical area and provides a fundamental constraint for understanding how cortical information processing operates.

Keywords:neurophysiology, temporal cortex, visual cortex, visual masking, visual stimulation, Animals, Face, Macaca mulatta, Neurons, Pattern Recognition, Visual, Perceptual Masking, Photic Stimulation, Reaction Time, Time Factors, Visual Perception
Subjects:C Biological Sciences > C800 Psychology
C Biological Sciences > C850 Cognitive Psychology
C Biological Sciences > C830 Experimental Psychology
C Biological Sciences > C841 Health Psychology
C Biological Sciences > C840 Clinical Psychology
Divisions:College of Social Science > School of Psychology
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ID Code:24505
Deposited On:04 Sep 2017 12:42

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