A hierarchical model of perceptual multistability involving interocular grouping

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Ambiguous visual images can generate dynamic and stochastic switches in perceptual interpretation known as perceptual rivalry. Such dynamics have primarily been studied in the context of rivalry between two percepts, but there is growing interest in the neural mechanisms that drive rivalry between more than two percepts. In recent experiments, we showed that split images presented to each eye lead to subjects perceiving four stochastically alternating percepts (Jacot-Guillarmod et al. Vision research, 133, 37–46, 2017): two single eye images and two interocularly grouped images. Here we propose a hierarchical neural network model that exhibits dynamics consistent with our experimental observations. The model consists of two levels, with the first representing monocular activity, and the second representing activity in higher visual areas. The model produces stochastically switching solutions, whose dependence on task parameters is consistent with four generalized Levelt Propositions, and with experiments. Moreover, dynamics restricted to invariant subspaces of the model demonstrate simpler forms of bistable rivalry. Thus, our hierarchical model generalizes past, validated models of binocular rivalry. This neuromechanistic model also allows us to probe the roles of interactions between populations at the network level. Generalized Levelt’s Propositions hold as long as feedback from the higher to lower visual areas is weak, and the adaptation and mutual inhibition at the higher level is not too strong. Our results suggest constraints on the architecture of the visual system and show that complex visual stimuli can be used in perceptual rivalry experiments to develop more detailed mechanistic models of perceptual processing.