Selective Neural Synchrony Suppression as a Forward Gatekeeper to Piecemeal Conscious Perception

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The emergence of conscious visual perception is assumed to ignite late (∼250 ms) gamma-band oscillations shortly after an initial (∼100 ms) forward sweep of neural sensory (nonconscious) information. However, this neural evidence is not utterly congruent with rich behavioral data which rather point to piecemeal (i.e., graded) perceptual processing. To address the unexplored neural mechanisms of piecemeal ignition of conscious perception, hierarchical script sensitivity of the putative visual word form area (VWFA) was exploited to signal null (i.e., sensory), partial (i.e., letter-level), and full (i.e., word-level) conscious perception. Two magnetoencephalography experiments were conducted in which healthy human participants viewed masked words (Experiment I: active task, Dutch words; Experiment II: passive task, Hebrew words) while high-frequency (broadband gamma) brain activity was measured. Findings revealed that piecemeal conscious perception did not ignite a linear piecemeal increase in oscillations. Instead, whereas late (∼250 ms) gamma-band oscillations signaled full conscious perception (i.e., word-level), partial conscious perception (i.e., letter-level) was signaled via the inhibition of the early (∼100 ms) forward sweep. This inhibition regulates the downstream broadcast to filter out irrelevant (i.e., masks) information. The findings thus highlight a local (VWFA) gatekeeping mechanism for conscious perception, operating by filtering out and in selective percepts.

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