Neurons that detect interocular conflict during binocular rivalry revealed with EEG

Sucharit Katyal, Stephen A. Engel, Bin He, Sheng He

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

14 Scopus citations


When the two eyes view incompatible images, perception alternates between them. What neural computations underlie this binocular rivalry? Perceptual alternations may simply reflect competition between the sets of monocular neurons that respond to each image, with the stronger driving perception. Here, we test an alternative hypothesis, that the computations that resolve rivalry make use of an active signal that reflects interocular conflict. Images presented to each eye were flickered at different frequencies while we measured steady-state visually evoked potentials (SSVEP). Signals at frequencies that are combinations of the two input frequencies can arise only from binocular neurons. In a first experiment, we measured energy at these "intermodulation" frequencies during binocular rivalry and found it to be highest immediately before rivalry restarted following a period of incomplete resolution of rivalry (a "mixed" percept). This suggests that the intermodulation signals may arise from neurons important for resolving the conflict between the two eyes' inputs. In a second experiment, we tested whether the intermodulation signal arose from neurons that measure interocular conflict by parametrically increasing conflict while simultaneously reducing image contrast. The activity of neurons that receive input from both eyes but are not sensitive to conflict should reduce monotonically as contrast decreases. The intermodulation response, however, peaked at intermediate levels of conflict, suggesting that it arises in part from neurons that respond to interocular conflict. Binocular rivalry appears to depend on an active mechanism that detects interocular conflict, whose levels of activity can be measured by the intermodulation frequencies of the SSVEP.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number18
JournalJournal of vision
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016


  • Binocular fusion
  • Binocular rivalry
  • Intermodulation frequencies

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