Neural processing of visual information under interocular suppression: A critical review

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Abstract

When dissimilar stimuli are presented to the two eyes, only one stimulus dominates at a time while the other stimulus is invisible due to interocular suppression. When both stimuli are equally potent in competing for awareness, perception alternates spontaneously between the two stimuli, a phenomenon called binocular rivalry. However, when one stimulus is much stronger, e.g., due to higher contrast, the weaker stimulus can be suppressed for prolonged periods of time. A technique that has recently become very popular for the investigation of unconscious visual processing is continuous flash suppression (CFS): High-contrast dynamic patterns shown to one eye can render a low-contrast stimulus shown to the other eye invisible for up to minutes. Studies using CFS have produced new insights but also controversies regarding the types of visual information that can be processed unconsciously as well as the neural sites and the relevance of such unconscious processing. Here, we review the current state of knowledge in regard to neural processing of interocularly suppressed information. Focusing on recent neuroimaging findings, we discuss whether and to what degree such suppressed visual information is processed at early and more advanced levels of the visual processing hierarchy. We review controversial findings related to the influence of attention on early visual processing under interocular suppression, the putative differential roles of dorsal and ventral areas in unconscious object processing, and evidence suggesting privileged unconscious processing of emotional and other socially relevant information. On a more general note, we discuss methodological and conceptual issues, from practical issues of how unawareness of a stimulus is assessed to the overarching question of what constitutes an adequate operational definition of unawareness. Finally, we propose approaches for future research to resolve current controversies in this exciting research area.

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Sterzer, P., Stein, T., Ludwig, K., Rothkirch, M., & Hesselmann, G. (2014). Neural processing of visual information under interocular suppression: A critical review. Frontiers in Psychology. Frontiers Research Foundation. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00453

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