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  1. Abstract

    Ambiguous images elicit bistable perception, wherein periods of momentary perceptual stability are interrupted by sudden perceptual switches. When intermittently presented, ambiguous images trigger a perceptual memory trace in the intervening blank periods. Understanding the neural bases of perceptual stability and perceptual memory during bistable perception may hold clues for explaining the apparent stability of visual experience in the natural world, where ambiguous and fleeting images are prevalent. Motivated by recent work showing the involvement of the right inferior frontal gyrus (rIFG) in bistable perception, we conducted a transcranial direct-current stimulation (tDCS) study with a double-blind, within-subject cross-over design to test a potential causal role of rIFG in these processes. Subjects viewed ambiguous images presented continuously or intermittently while under EEG recording. We did not find any significant tDCS effect on perceptual behavior. However, the fluctuations of oscillatory power in the alpha and beta bands predicted perceptual stability, with higher power corresponding to longer percept durations. In addition, higher alpha and beta power predicted enhanced perceptual memory during intermittent viewing. These results reveal a unified neurophysiological mechanism sustaining perceptual stability and perceptual memory when the visual system is faced with ambiguous input.

  2. Arousal levels perpetually rise and fall spontaneously. How markers of arousal—pupil size and frequency content of brain activity—relate to each other and influence behavior in humans is poorly understood. We simultaneously monitored magnetoencephalography and pupil in healthy volunteers at rest and during a visual perceptual decision-making task. Spontaneously varying pupil size correlates with power of brain activity in most frequency bands across large-scale resting state cortical networks. Pupil size recorded at prestimulus baseline correlates with subsequent shifts in detection bias ( c ) and sensitivity ( d ’). When dissociated from pupil-linked state, prestimulus spectral power of resting state networks still predicts perceptual behavior. Fast spontaneous pupil constriction and dilation correlate with large-scale brain activity as well but not perceptual behavior. Our results illuminate the relation between central and peripheral arousal markers and their respective roles in human perceptual decision-making.
  3. Abstract

    Perception results from the interplay of sensory input and prior knowledge. Despite behavioral evidence that long-term priors powerfully shape perception, the neural mechanisms underlying these interactions remain poorly understood. We obtained direct cortical recordings in neurosurgical patients as they viewed ambiguous images that elicit constant perceptual switching. We observe top-down influences from the temporal to occipital cortex, during the preferred percept that is congruent with the long-term prior. By contrast, stronger feedforward drive is observed during the non-preferred percept, consistent with a prediction error signal. A computational model based on hierarchical predictive coding and attractor networks reproduces all key experimental findings. These results suggest a pattern of large-scale information flow change underlying long-term priors’ influence on perception and provide constraints on theories about long-term priors’ influence on perception.

  4. Abstract

    The neural mechanisms underlying conscious recognition remain unclear, particularly the roles played by the prefrontal cortex, deactivated brain areas and subcortical regions. We investigated neural activity during conscious object recognition using 7 Tesla fMRI while human participants viewed object images presented at liminal contrasts. Here, we show both recognized and unrecognized images recruit widely distributed cortical and subcortical regions; however, recognized images elicit enhanced activation of visual, frontoparietal, and subcortical networks and stronger deactivation of the default-mode network. For recognized images, object category information can be decoded from all of the involved cortical networks but not from subcortical regions. Phase-scrambled images trigger strong involvement of inferior frontal junction, anterior cingulate cortex and default-mode network, implicating these regions in inferential processing under increased uncertainty. Our results indicate that content-specific activity in both activated and deactivated cortical networks and non-content-specific subcortical activity support conscious recognition.

  5. A degraded, black-and-white image of an object, which appears meaningless on first presentation, is easily identified after a single exposure to the original, intact image. This striking example of perceptual learning reflects a rapid (one-trial) change in performance, but the kind of learning that is involved is not known. We asked whether this learning depends on conscious (hippocampus-dependent) memory for the images that have been presented or on an unconscious (hippocampus-independent) change in the perception of images, independently of the ability to remember them. We tested five memory-impaired patients with hippocampal lesions or larger medial temporal lobe (MTL) lesions. In comparison to volunteers, the patients were fully intact at perceptual learning, and their improvement persisted without decrement from 1 d to more than 5 mo. Yet, the patients were impaired at remembering the test format and, even after 1 d, were impaired at remembering the images themselves. To compare perceptual learning and remembering directly, at 7 d after seeing degraded images and their solutions, patients and volunteers took either a naming test or a recognition memory test with these images. The patients improved as much as the volunteers at identifying the degraded images but were severely impaired at remembering them.more »Notably, the patient with the most severe memory impairment and the largest MTL lesions performed worse than the other patients on the memory tests but was the best at perceptual learning. The findings show that one-trial, long-lasting perceptual learning relies on hippocampus-independent (nondeclarative) memory, independent of any requirement to consciously remember.« less
  6. Neural activity and behavior are both notoriously variable, with responses differing widely between repeated presentation of identical stimuli or trials. Recent results in humans and animals reveal that these variations are not random in their nature, but may in fact be due in large part to rapid shifts in neural, cognitive, and behavioral states. Here we review recent advances in the understanding of rapid variations in the waking state, how variations are generated, and how they modulate neural and behavioral responses in both mice and humans. We propose that the brain has an identifiable set of states through which it wanders continuously in a nonrandom fashion, owing to the activity of both ascending modulatory and fast-acting corticocortical and subcortical-cortical neural pathways. These state variations provide the backdrop upon which the brain operates, and understanding them is critical to making progress in revealing the neural mechanisms underlying cognition and behavior.
  7. Abstract Flipping through social media feeds, viewing exhibitions in a museum, or walking through the botanical gardens, people consistently choose to engage with and disengage from visual content. Yet, in most laboratory settings, the visual stimuli, their presentation duration, and the task at hand are all controlled by the researcher. Such settings largely overlook the spontaneous nature of human visual experience, in which perception takes place independently from specific task constraints and its time course is determined by the observer as a self-governing agent. Currently, much remains unknown about how spontaneous perceptual experiences unfold in the brain. Are all perceptual categories extracted during spontaneous perception? Does spontaneous perception inherently involve volition? Is spontaneous perception segmented into discrete episodes? How do different neural networks interact over time during spontaneous perception? These questions are imperative to understand our conscious visual experience in daily life. In this article we propose a framework for spontaneous perception. We first define spontaneous perception as a task-free and self-paced experience. We propose that spontaneous perception is guided by four organizing principles that grant it temporal and spatial structures. These principles include coarse-to-fine processing, continuity and segmentation, agency and volition, and associative processing. We provide key suggestions illustratingmore »how these principles may interact with one another in guiding the multifaceted experience of spontaneous perception. We point to testable predictions derived from this framework, including (but not limited to) the roles of the default-mode network and slow cortical potentials in underlying spontaneous perception. We conclude by suggesting several outstanding questions for future research, extending the relevance of this framework to consciousness and spontaneous brain activity. In conclusion, the spontaneous perception framework proposed herein integrates components in human perception and cognition, which have been traditionally studied in isolation, and opens the door to understand how visual perception unfolds in its most natural context.« less