Neural dynamics of breaking continuous flash suppression

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Abstract

Sensory input to the human visual system often becomes accessible to cognition and overt report during processing. We investigated neural precursors of conscious vision using EEG recordings and the popular breaking continuous flash suppression (bCFS) paradigm. In this technique, a mask consisting of high-contrast dynamic patterns is presented to one eye, predominating over a target stimulus presented to the other eye. The time needed for the target stimulus to overcome the suppression is thought to reflect the transition from unconscious to conscious perception. In bCFS trials with slow responses, indicative of potent suppression, a time-frequency analysis showed reduced occipital gamma power (33–38Hz) contralaterally to the visual hemifield where the target was presented 0.27 to 0.21s prior to the behavioral response. This neural activity was concurrent with a local phase reset and enhanced long-range phase synchronization in the theta band (7Hz). Such a pattern did not arise in a control condition in which suppression was not induced. Thus, the theta phase reset and synchronization in bCFS trials precede a break from suppression, likely initiating a re-routing of information such that the neural representation of the target is updated more efficiently than that of the competing mask. Overall, these findings mark the emergence of a binocularly integrated percept that can be consciously selected for a behavioral response.

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