Binocular Rivalry Requires Visual Attention

Peng Zhang, Keith Jamison, Stephen Engel, Bin He, Sheng He

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

148 Scopus citations


An interocular conflict arises when different images are presented to each eye at the same spatial location. The visual system resolves this conflict through binocular rivalry: observers consciously perceive spontaneous alternations between the two images. Visual attention is generally important for resolving competition between neural representations. However, given the seemingly spontaneous and automatic nature of binocular rivalry, the role of attention in resolving interocular competition remains unclear. Here we test whether visual attention is necessary to produce rivalry. Using an EEG frequency-tagging method to track cortical representations of the conflicting images, we show that when attention was diverted away, rivalry stopped. The EEG data further suggested that the neural representations of the dichoptic images combined without attention. Thus, attention is necessary for dichoptic images to be engaged in sustained rivalry and may be generally required for resolving conflicting, potentially ambiguous input and giving a single interpretation access to consciousness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)362-369
Number of pages8
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 28 2011

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported by National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (RO1 EB007920), National Eye Institute (R01 EY015261), and National Science Foundation (BCS-0818588). K.J. was supported by a training grant from National Institutes of Health (T32 EB008389). We thank Cristina Rios and Lin Yang for their help on data collection and data analysis.


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