Perception of temporally interleaved ambiguous patterns

Current Biology (2003)
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Background: Continuous viewing of ambiguous patterns is characterized by wavering perception that alternates between two or more equally valid visual solutions. However, when such patterns are viewed intermittently, either by repetitive presentation or by periodic closing of the eyes, perception can become locked or "frozen" in one configuration for several minutes at a time. One aspect of this stabilization is the possible existence of a perceptual memory that persists during periods in which the ambiguous stimulus is absent. Here, we use a novel paradgim of temporally interleaved ambiguous stimuli to explore the nature of this memory, with particular regard to its potential impact on perceptual organization. Results: We found that the persistence of a perceptual configuration was robust to interposed visual patterns and, further, that at least three ambiguous patterns, when interleaved in time, could undergo parallel, stable time courses. Then, using an interleaved presentation paradigm, we established that the occasional reversal in one pattern could be coupled with that of its interleaved counterpart, and that this coupling was a function of the structural similarity between the patterns. Conclusions: We postulate that the stabilization observed with repetitive presentation of ambiguous patterns can be at least partially accounted for by processes that retain a recent perceptual interpretation, and we speculate that such memory may be important in natural vision. We further propose tha the interleaved paradigm introduced here may be of great value to gauge aspects of stimulus similarity that appeal to particular mechanisms of perceptual organization



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