Cortical responses to optic flow and motion contrast across patterns and speeds

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Abstract

Motion provides animals with fast and robust cues for navigation and object detection. In the first case, stereotyped patterns of optic flow inform a moving observer about the direction and speed of its own movement. In the case of object detection, regional differences in motion allow for the segmentation of figures from their background, even in the absence of color or shading cues. Previous research has investigated human electrophysiological responses to global motion across speeds, but only focused upon one type of optic flow pattern. Here, we compared steady-state visual evoked potential (SSVEP) responses across patterns and speeds, both for optic flow and for motion-defined figure patterns, to assess the extent to which the processes are pattern-general or pattern-specific. For optic flow, pattern and speed effects on response amplitudes varied substantially across channels, suggesting pattern-specific processing at slow speeds and pattern-general activity at fast speeds. Responses for coherence- and direction-defined figures were comparatively more uniform, with similar response profiles and spatial distributions. Self- and object-motion patterns activate some of the same circuits, but these data suggest differential sensitivity: not only across the two classes of motion, but also across the patterns within each class, and across speeds. Thus, the results demonstrate that cortical processing of global motion is complex and activates a distributed network.

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