Traveling waves in a neural field model of binocular rivalry
A number of phenomena in visual perception involve wave-like propagation dynamics. Examples include perceptual filling-in, migraine aura, and the expansion of illusory contours. Another important example is the wave-like propagation of perceptual dominance during binocular rivalry. Binocular rivalry is the phenomenon where perception switches back and forth between different images presented to the two eyes. The resulting fluctuations in perceptual dominance and suppression provide a basis for non-invasive studies of the human visual system and the identification of possible neural mechanisms underlying conscious visual awareness. In this talk we present a neural field model of binocular rivalry waves in visual cortex. For each eye we consider a one-dimensional network of neurons that respond maximally to a particular feature of the corresponding image such as the orientation of a grating stimulus. Recurrent connections within each one-dimensional network are assumed to be excitatory, whereas connections between the two networks are taken to be inhibitory (cross-inhibition). Slow adaptationis incorporated into the model by taking the network connections to exhibit synaptic depression. We derive an analytical expression for the speed of a binocular rivalry wave as a function of various neurophysiological parameters, and show how properties of the wave are consistent with the wave-like propagation of perceptual dominance observed in recent psychophysical experiments. In addition to providing an analytical framework for studying binocular rivalry waves, we show how neural field methods provide insights into the mechanisms underlying the generation of the waves. In particular, we highlight the important role of slow adaptation in providing a "symmetry breaking mechanism" that allows waves to propagate. We end by discussing recent work on the effects of noise.