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Lab Publications

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2016 (back to top)

Shi, Z. & Burr, D. (2016). Predictive coding of multisensory timing, Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, (8), 200-206. PDF

The sense of time is foundational for perception and action, yet it frequently departs significantly from physical time. In the paper we review recent progress on temporal contextual effects, multisensory temporal integration, temporal recalibration, and related computational models. We suggest that subjective time arises from minimizing prediction errors and adaptive recalibration, which can be unified in the framework of predictive coding, a framework rooted in Helmholtz's ‘perception as inference’.

Tamietto, M. & Morrone, M. C. (2016). Visual Plasticity: Blindsight Bridges Anatomy and Function in the Visual System, Curr Biol, 2 (26), R70-73. PDF

Some people who are blind due to damage to their primary visual cortex, V1, can discriminate stimuli presented within their blind visual field. This residual function has been recently linked to a pathway that bypasses V1, and connects the thalamic lateral geniculate nucleus directly with the extrastriate cortical area MT.

Bruno, A. & Cicchini, G. M. (2016). Multiple channels of visual time perception, Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, (8), 131-139. PDF

The proposal that the processing of visual time might rely on a network of distributed mechanisms that are vision-specific and timescale-specific stands in contrast to the classical view of time perception as the product of a single supramodal clock. Evidence showing that some of these mechanisms have a sensory component that can be locally adapted is at odds with another traditional assumption, namely that time is completely divorced from space. Recent evidence suggests that multiple timing mechanisms exist across and within sensory modalities and that they operate in various neural regions. The current review summarizes this evidence and frames it into the broader scope of models for time perception in the visual domain.

Turi, M., Karaminis, T., Pellicano, E. & Burr, D. (2016). No rapid audiovisual recalibration in adults on the autism spectrum, Scientific Reports, (6), 21756. PDF

Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are characterized by difficulties in social cognition, but are also associated with atypicalities in sensory and perceptual processing. Several groups have reported that autistic individuals show reduced integration of socially relevant audiovisual signals, which may contribute to the higher-order social and cognitive difficulties observed in autism. Here we use a newly devised technique to study instantaneous adaptation to audiovisual asynchrony in autism. Autistic and typical participants were presented with sequences of brief visual and auditory stimuli, varying in asynchrony over a wide range, from 512?ms auditory-lead to 512?ms auditory-lag, and judged whether they seemed to be synchronous. Typical adults showed strong adaptation effects, with trials proceeded by an auditory-lead needing more auditory-lead to seem simultaneous, and vice versa. However, autistic observers showed little or no adaptation, although their simultaneity curves were as narrow as the typical adults. This result supports recent Bayesian models that predict reduced adaptation effects in autism. As rapid audiovisual recalibration may be fundamental for the optimisation of speech comprehension, recalibration problems could render language processing more difficult in autistic individuals, hindering social communication.

Fornaciai, M., Cicchini, G. M. & Burr, D. C. (2016). Adaptation to number operates on perceived rather than physical numerosity, Cognition, (151), 63-67.PDF

Humans share with many animals a number sense, the ability to estimate rapidly the approximate number of items in a scene. Recent work has shown that like many other perceptual attributes, numerosity is susceptible to adaptation. It is not clear, however, whether adaptation works directly on mechanisms selective to numerosity, or via related mechanisms, such as those tuned to texture density. To disentangle this issue we measured adaptation of numerosity of 10 pairs of connected dots, as connecting dots makes them appear to be less numerous than unconnected dots. Adaptation to a 20-dot pattern (same number of dots as the test) caused robust reduction in apparent numerosity of the connected-dot pattern, but not of the unconnected dot-pattern. This suggests that adaptation to numerosity, at least for relatively sparse dot-pattern, occurs at neural levels encoding perceived numerosity, rather than at lower levels responding to the number of elements in the scene.

Fornaciai, M., Arrighi, R. & Burr, D. C. (2016). Adaptation-Induced Compression of Event Time Occurs Only for Translational Motion, Scientific Reports, (6), 23341. PDF

Adaptation to fast motion reduces the perceived duration of stimuli displayed at the same location as the adapting stimuli. Here we show that the adaptation-induced compression of time is specific for translational motion. Adaptation to complex motion, either circular or radial, did not affect perceived duration of subsequently viewed stimuli. Adaptation with multiple patches of translating motion caused compression of duration only when the motion of all patches was in the same direction. These results show that adaptation-induced compression of event-time occurs only for uni-directional translational motion, ruling out the possibility that the neural mechanisms of the adaptation occur at early levels of visual processing.

Benedetto, A. & Binda, P. (2016). Dissociable saccadic suppression of pupillary and perceptual responses to light, J Neurophysiol, 3 (115), 1243-1251. PDF

We measured pupillary constrictions in response to full-screen flashes of variable luminance, occurring either at the onset of a saccadic eye movement or well before/after it. A large fraction of perisaccadic flashes were undetectable to the subjects, consistent with saccadic suppression of visual sensitivity. Likewise, pupillary responses to perisaccadic flashes were strongly suppressed. However, the two phenomena appear to be dissociable. Across subjects and luminance levels of the flash stimulus, there were cases in which conscious perception of the flash was completely depleted yet the pupillary response was clearly present, as well as cases in which the opposite occurred. On one hand, the fact that pupillary light responses are subject to saccadic suppression reinforces evidence that this is not a simple reflex but depends on the integration of retinal illumination with complex "extraretinal" cues. On the other hand, the relative independence of pupillary and perceptual responses suggests that suppression acts separately on these systems-consistent with the idea of multiple visual pathways that are differentially affected by saccades.

Deroy, O., Faivre, N., Lunghi, C., Spence, C., Aller, M. & Noppeney, U. (2016). The Complex Interplay Between Multisensory Integration and Perceptual Awareness, Multisensory Research. PDF

The integration of information has been considered a hallmark of human consciousness, as it requires information being globally available via widespread neural interactions. Yet the complex interdependencies between multisensory integration and perceptual awareness, or consciousness, remain to be defined. While perceptual awareness has traditionally been studied in a single sense, in recent years we have witnessed a surge of interest in the role of multisensory integration in perceptual awareness. Based on a recent IMRF symposium on multisensory awareness, this review discusses three key questions from conceptual, methodological and experimental perspectives: (1) What do we study when we study multisensory awareness? (2) What is the relationship between multisensory integration and perceptual awareness? (3) Which experimental approaches are most promising to characterize multisensory awareness? We hope that this review paper will provoke lively discussions, novel experiments, and conceptual considerations to advance our understanding of the multifaceted interplay between multisensory integration and consciousness.

Lunghi, C., Morrone, M. C., Secci, J. & Caputo, R. (2016). Binocular Rivalry Measured 2 Hours After Occlusion Therapy Predicts the Recovery Rate of the Amblyopic Eye in Anisometropic Children, Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci, 4 (57), 1537-1546. PDF

PURPOSE. Recent studies on adults have shown that short-term monocular deprivation boosts the deprived eye signal in binocular rivalry, reflecting homeostatic plasticity. Here we investigate whether homeostatic plasticity is present also during occlusion therapy for moderate amblyopia. METHODS. Binocular rivalry and visual acuity (using Snellen charts for children) were measured in 10 children (mean age 6.2 ± 1 years) with moderate anisometropic amblyopia before the beginning of treatment and at four intervals during occlusion therapy (2 hours, 1, 2, and 5 months). Visual stimuli were orthogonal gratings presented dichoptically through ferromagnetic goggles and children reported verbally visual rivalrous perception. Bangerter filters were applied on the spectacle lens over the best eye for occlusion therapy. RESULTS. Two hours of occlusion therapy increased the nonamblyopic eye predominance over the amblyopic eye compared with pretreatment measurements, consistent with the results in adults. The boost of the nonamblyopic eye was still present after 1 month of treatment, steadily decreasing afterward to reach pretreatment levels after 2 months of continuous occlusion. Across subjects, the increase in nonamblyopic eye predominance observed after 2 hours of occlusion correlated (rho = -0.65, P = 0.04) with the visual acuity improvement of the amblyopic eye measured after 2 months of treatment. CONCLUSIONS. Homeostatic plasticity operates during occlusion therapy for moderate amblyopia and the increase in nonamblyopic eye dominance observed at the beginning of treatment correlates with the amblyopic eye recovery rate. These results suggest that binocular rivalry might be used to monitor visual cortical plasticity during occlusion therapy, although further investigations on larger clinical populations are needed to validate the predictive power of the technique.

Benedetto, A., Spinelli, D. & Morrone, M. C. (2016). Rhythmic modulation of visual contrast discrimination triggered by action, Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, 1831 (283), PDF


Recent evidence suggests that ongoing brain oscillations may be instrumental in binding and integrating multisensory signals. In this experiment, we investigated the temporal dynamics of visual–motor integration processes. We show that action modulates sensitivity to visual contrast discrimination in a rhythmic fashion at frequencies of about 5 Hz (in the theta range), for up to 1 s after execution of action. To understand the origin of the oscillations, we measured oscillations in contrast sensitivity at different levels of luminance, which is known to affect the endogenous brain rhythms, boosting the power of alpha-frequencies. We found that the frequency of oscillation in sensitivity increased at low luminance, probably reflecting the shift in mean endogenous brain rhythm towards higher frequencies. Importantly, both at high and at low luminance, contrast discrimination showed a rhythmic motor-induced suppression effect, with the suppression occurring earlier at low luminance. We suggest that oscillations play a key role in sensory–motor integration, and that the motor-induced suppression may reflect the first manifestation of a rhythmic oscillation.

Zimmermann, E., Morrone, M. C. & Burr, D. (2016). Adaptation to size affects saccades with long but not short latencies, J Vis, 7 (16), 2. PDF

Maintained exposure to a specific stimulus property-such as size, color, or motion-induces perceptual adaptation aftereffects, usually in the opposite direction to that of the adaptor. Here we studied how adaptation to size affects perceived position and visually guided action (saccadic eye movements) to that position. Subjects saccaded to the border of a diamond-shaped object after adaptation to a smaller diamond shape. For saccades in the normal latency range, amplitudes decreased, consistent with saccading to a larger object. Short-latency saccades, however, tended to be affected less by the adaptation, suggesting that they were only partly triggered by a signal representing the illusory target position. We also tested size perception after adaptation, followed by a mask stimulus at the probe location after various delays. Similar size adaptation magnitudes were found for all probe-mask delays. In agreement with earlier studies, these results suggest that the duration of the saccade latency period determines the reference frame that codes the probe location.

Karaminis, T., Cicchini, G. M., Neil, L., Cappagli, G., Aagten-Murphy, D., Burr, D., et al. (2016). Central tendency effects in time interval reproduction in autism, Sci Rep, (6), 28570. PDF

Central tendency, the tendency of judgements of quantities (lengths, durations etc.) to gravitate towards their mean, is one of the most robust perceptual effects. A Bayesian account has recently suggested that central tendency reflects the integration of noisy sensory estimates with prior knowledge representations of a mean stimulus, serving to improve performance. The process is flexible, so prior knowledge is weighted more heavily when sensory estimates are imprecise, requiring more integration to reduce noise. In this study we measure central tendency in autism to evaluate a recent theoretical hypothesis suggesting that autistic perception relies less on prior knowledge representations than typical perception. If true, autistic children should show reduced central tendency than theoretically predicted from their temporal resolution. We tested autistic and age- and ability-matched typical children in two child-friendly tasks: (1) a time interval reproduction task, measuring central tendency in the temporal domain; and (2) a time discrimination task, assessing temporal resolution. Central tendency reduced with age in typical development, while temporal resolution improved. Autistic children performed far worse in temporal discrimination than the matched controls. Computational simulations suggested that central tendency was much less in autistic children than predicted by theoretical modelling, given their poor temporal resolution.

Vercillo, T., Burr, D. & Gori, M. (2016). Early visual deprivation severely compromises the auditory sense of space in congenitally blind children, Dev Psychol, 6 (52), 847-853. PDF

A recent study has shown that congenitally blind adults, who have never had visual experience, are impaired on an auditory spatial bisection task (Gori, Sandini, Martinoli, & Burr, 2014). In this study we investigated how thresholds for auditory spatial bisection and auditory discrimination develop with age in sighted and congenitally blind children (9 to 14 years old). Children performed 2 spatial tasks (minimum audible angle and space bisection) and 1 temporal task (temporal bisection). There was no impairment in the temporal task for blind children but, like adults, they showed severely compromised thresholds for spatial bisection. Interestingly, the blind children also showed lower precision in judging minimum audible angle. These results confirm the adult study and go on to suggest that even simpler auditory spatial tasks are compromised in children, and that this capacity recovers over time.

Tomassini, A. & Morrone, M. C. (2016). Perceived visual time depends on motor preparation and direction of hand movements, Sci Rep, (6), 27947. PDF

Perceived time undergoes distortions when we prepare and perform movements, showing compression and/or expansion for visual, tactile and auditory stimuli. However, the actual motor system contribution to these time distortions is far from clear. In this study we investigated visual time perception during preparation of isometric contractions and real movements of the hand in two different directions (right/left). Comparable modulations of visual event-timing are found in the isometric and in the movement condition, excluding explanations based on movement-induced sensory masking or attenuation. Most importantly, and surprisingly, visual time depends on the movement direction, being expanded for hand movements pointing away from the body and compressed in the other direction. Furthermore, the effect of movement direction is not constant, but rather undergoes non-monotonic modulations in the brief moments preceding movement initiation. Our findings indicate that time distortions are strongly linked to the motor system, and they may be unavoidable consequences of the mechanisms subserving sensory-motor integration.

Anobile, G., Arrighi, R., Togoli, I. & Burr, D. C. (2016). A shared numerical representation for action and perception, Elife, (5), PDF

Humans and other species have perceptual mechanisms dedicated to estimating approximate quantity: a sense of number. Here we show a clear interaction between self-produced actions and the perceived numerosity of subsequent visual stimuli. A short period of rapid finger-tapping (without sensory feedback) caused subjects to underestimate the number of visual stimuli presented near the tapping region; and a period of slow tapping caused overestimation. The distortions occurred both for stimuli presented sequentially (series of flashes) and simultaneously (clouds of dots); both for magnitude estimation and forced-choice comparison. The adaptation was spatially selective, primarily in external, real-world coordinates. Our results sit well with studies reporting links between perception and action, showing that vision and action share mechanisms that encode numbers: a generalized number sense, which estimates the number of self-generated as well as external events.

Aagten-Murphy, D. & Burr, D. (2016). Adaptation to numerosity requires only brief exposures, and is determined by number of events, not exposure duration, J Vis, 10 (16), 22. PDF

Exposure to a patch of dots produces a repulsive shift in the perceived numerosity of subsequently viewed dot patches. Although a remarkably strong effect, in which the perceived numerosity can be shifted by up to 50% of the actual numerosity, very little is known about the temporal dynamics. Here we demonstrate a novel adaptation paradigm that allows numerosity adaptation to be rapidly induced at several distinct locations simultaneously. We show that not only is this adaptation to numerosity spatially specific, with different locations of the visual field able to be adapted to high, low, or neutral stimuli, but it can occur with only very brief periods of adaptation. Further investigation revealed that the adaptation effect was primarily driven by the number of unique adapting events that had occurred and not by either the duration of each event or the total duration of exposure to adapting stimuli. This event-based numerosity adaptation appears to fit well with statistical models of adaptation in which the dynamic adjustment of perceptual experiences, based on both the previous experience of the stimuli and the current percept, acts to optimize the limited working range of perception. These results implicate a highly plastic mechanism for numerosity perception, which is dependent on the number of discrete adaptation events, and also demonstrate a quick and efficient paradigm suitable for examining the temporal properties of adaptation.

Anobile, G., Castaldi, E., Turi, M., Tinelli, F. & Burr, D. C. (2016). Numerosity but not texture-density discrimination correlates with math ability in children, Dev Psychol, 8 (52), 1206-1216. PDF

Considerable recent work suggests that mathematical abilities in children correlate with the ability to estimate numerosity. Does math correlate only with numerosity estimation, or also with other similar tasks? We measured discrimination thresholds of school-age (6- to 12.5-years-old) children in 3 tasks: numerosity of patterns of relatively sparse, segregatable items (24 dots); numerosity of very dense textured patterns (250 dots); and discrimination of direction of motion. Thresholds in all tasks improved with age, but at different rates, implying the action of different mechanisms: In particular, in young children, thresholds were lower for sparse than textured patterns (the opposite of adults), suggesting earlier maturation of numerosity mechanisms. Importantly, numerosity thresholds for sparse stimuli correlated strongly with math skills, even after controlling for the influence of age, gender and nonverbal IQ. However, neither motion-direction discrimination nor numerosity discrimination of texture patterns showed a significant correlation with math abilities. These results provide further evidence that numerosity and texture-density are perceived by independent neural mechanisms, which develop at different rates; and importantly, only numerosity mechanisms are related to math. As developmental dyscalculia is characterized by a profound deficit in discriminating numerosity, it is fundamental to understand the mechanism behind the discrimination.

Cicchini, G. M., Anobile, G. & Burr, D. C. (2016). Spontaneous perception of numerosity in humans, Nat Commun, (7), 12536. PDF

Humans, including infants, and many other species have a capacity for rapid, nonverbal estimation of numerosity. However, the mechanisms for number perception are still not clear; some maintain that the system calculates numerosity via density estimates-similar to those involved in texture-while others maintain that more direct, dedicated mechanisms are involved. Here we show that provided that items are not packed too densely, human subjects are far more sensitive to numerosity than to either density or area. In a two-dimensional space spanning density, area and numerosity, subjects spontaneously react with far greater sensitivity to changes in numerosity, than either area or density. Even in tasks where they were explicitly instructed to make density or area judgments, they responded spontaneously to number. We conclude, that humans extract number information, directly and spontaneously, via dedicated mechanisms.

Mikellidou, K., Gouws, A. D., Clawson, H., Thompson, P., Morland, A. B. & Keefe, B. D. (2016). An Orientation Dependent Size Illusion Is Underpinned by Processing in the Extrastriate Visual Area, LO1, i-Perception, 5 (7), PDF

We use the simple, but prominent Helmholtz’s squares illusion in which a vertically striped square appears wider than a horizontally striped square of identical physical dimensions to determine whether functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) BOLD responses in V1 underpin illusions of size. We report that these simple stimuli which differ in only one parameter, orientation, to which V1 neurons are highly selective elicited activity in V1 that followed their physical, not perceived size. To further probe the role of V1 in the illusion and investigate plausible extrastriate visual areas responsible for eliciting the Helmholtz squares illusion, we performed a follow-up transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) experiment in which we compared perceptual judgments about the aspect ratio of perceptually identical Helmholtz squares when no TMS was applied against selective stimulation of V1, LO1, or LO2. In agreement with fMRI results, we report that TMS of area V1 does not compromise the strength of the illusion. Only stimulation of area LO1, and not LO2, compromised significantly the strength of the illusion, consistent with previous research that LO1 plays a role in the processing of orientation information. These results demonstrate the involvement of a specific extrastriate area in an illusory percept of size.

Taubert, J., Alais D., Burr, D. (2016). Different coding strategies for the perception of stable and changeable facial attributes, Sci. Rep., 6. PDF

Perceptual systems face competing requirements: improving signal-to-noise ratios of noisy images, by integration; and maximising sensitivity to change, by differentiation. Both processes occur in human vision, under different circumstances: they have been termed priming, or serial dependencies, leading to positive sequential effects; and adaptation or habituation, which leads to negative sequential effects. We reasoned that for stable attributes, such as the identity and gender of faces, the system should integrate: while for changeable attributes like facial expression, it should also engage contrast mechanisms to maximise sensitivity to change. Subjects viewed a sequence of images varying simultaneously in gender and expression, and scored each as male or female, and happy or sad. We found strong and consistent positive serial dependencies for gender, and negative dependency for expression, showing that both processes can operate at the same time, on the same stimuli, depending on the attribute being judged. The results point to highly sophisticated mechanisms for optimizing use of past information, either by integration or differentiation, depending on the permanence of that attribute.

Castaldi, E., Aagten-Murphy, D., Tosetti, M., Burr, D. & Morrone, M. C. (2016). Effects of adaptation on numerosity decoding in the human brain, Neuroimage, (143), 364-377. PDF

Psychophysical studies have shown that numerosity is a sensory attribute susceptible to adaptation. Neuroimaging studies have reported that, at least for relatively low numbers, numerosity can be accurately discriminated in the intra-parietal sulcus. Here we developed a novel rapid adaptation paradigm where adapting and test stimuli are separated by pauses sufficient to dissociate their BOLD activity. We used multivariate pattern recognition to classify brain activity evoked by non-symbolic numbers over a wide range (20-80), both before and after psychophysical adaptation to the highest numerosity. Adaptation caused underestimation of all lower numerosities, and decreased slightly the average BOLD responses in V1 and IPS. Using support vector machine, we showed that the BOLD response of IPS, but not in V1, classified numerosity well, both when tested before and after adaptation. However, there was no transfer from training pre-adaptation responses to testing post-adaptation, and vice versa, indicating that adaptation changes the neuronal representation of the numerosity. Interestingly, decoding was more accurate after adaptation, and the amount of improvement correlated with the amount of perceptual underestimation of numerosity across subjects. These results suggest that numerosity adaptation acts directly on IPS, rather than indirectly via other low-level stimulus parameters analysis, and that adaptation improves the capacity to discriminate numerosity.

Lo Verde, L., Morrone, M. C. & Lunghi, C. (2016). Early Cross-modal Plasticity in Adults, J Cogn Neurosci, 1-10. PDF

It is known that, after a prolonged period of visual deprivation, the adult visual cortex can be recruited for nonvisual processing, reflecting cross-modal plasticity. Here, we investigated whether cross-modal plasticity can occur at short timescales in the typical adult brain by comparing the interaction between vision and touch during binocular rivalry before and after a brief period of monocular deprivation, which strongly alters ocular balance favoring the deprived eye. While viewing dichoptically two gratings of orthogonal orientation, participants were asked to actively explore a haptic grating congruent in orientation to one of the two rivalrous stimuli. We repeated this procedure before and after 150 min of monocular deprivation. We first confirmed that haptic stimulation interacted with vision during rivalry promoting dominance of the congruent visuo-haptic stimulus and that monocular deprivation increased the deprived eye and decreased the nondeprived eye dominance. Interestingly, after deprivation, we found that the effect of touch did not change for the nondeprived eye, whereas it disappeared for the deprived eye, which was potentiated after deprivation. The absence of visuo-haptic interaction for the deprived eye lasted for over 1 hr and was not attributable to a masking induced by the stronger response of the deprived eye as confirmed by a control experiment. Taken together, our results demonstrate that the adult human visual cortex retains a high degree of cross-modal plasticity, which can occur even at very short timescales.

Han, S., Lunghi, C. & Alais, D. (2016). The temporal frequency tuning of continuous flash suppression reveals peak suppression at very low frequencies, Sci Rep, (6), 35723. PDF

Continuous flash suppression (CFS) is a psychophysical technique where a rapidly changing Mondrian pattern viewed by one eye suppresses the target in the other eye for several seconds. Despite the widespread use of CFS to study unconscious visual processes, the temporal tuning of CFS suppression is currently unknown. In the present study we used spatiotemporally filtered dynamic noise as masking stimuli to probe the temporal characteristics of CFS. Surprisingly, we find that suppression in CFS peaks very prominently at approximately 1 Hz, well below the rates typically used in CFS studies (10 Hz or more). As well as a strong bias to low temporal frequencies, CFS suppression is greater for high spatial frequencies and increases with increasing masker contrast, indicating involvement of parvocellular/ventral mechanisms in the suppression process. These results are reminiscent of binocular rivalry, and unifies two phenomenon previously thought to require different explanations.

Castaldi, E., Cicchini, G. M., Cinelli, L., Biagi, L., Rizzo, S. & Morrone, M. C. (2016). Visual BOLD Response in Late Blind Subjects with Argus II Retinal Prosthesis, PLoS Biol, 10 (14), e1002569. PDF

Retinal prosthesis technologies require that the visual system downstream of the retinal circuitry be capable of transmitting and elaborating visual signals. We studied the capability of plastic remodeling in late blind subjects implanted with the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis with psychophysics and functional MRI (fMRI). After surgery, six out of seven retinitis pigmentosa (RP) blind subjects were able to detect high-contrast stimuli using the prosthetic implant. However, direction discrimination to contrast modulated stimuli remained at chance level in all of them. No subject showed any improvement of contrast sensitivity in either eye when not using the Argus II. Before the implant, the Blood Oxygenation Level Dependent (BOLD) activity in V1 and the lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN) was very weak or absent. Surprisingly, after prolonged use of Argus II, BOLD responses to visual input were enhanced. This is, to our knowledge, the first study tracking the neural changes of visual areas in patients after retinal implant, revealing a capacity to respond to restored visual input even after years of deprivation.

Mikellidou, K., Turi, M. & Burr, D. C. (2016). Spatiotopic maps during dynamic head tilt, J Neurophysiol, jn 00508 02016. PDF

Humans maintain a stable representation of the visual world effortlessly, despite constant movements of the eyes, head and body, across multiple planes. Whereas visual stability in the face of saccadic eye-movements has been intensely researched, fewer studies have investigated retinal image transformations induced by head movements, especially in the frontal plane. Unlike head rotations in the horizontal and sagittal planes, tilting the head in the frontal plane is only partially counteracted by torsional eye-movements, and consequently induces a distortion of the retinal image to which we seem to be completely oblivious. One possible mechanism aiding perceptual stability is an active reconstruction of a spatiotopic map of the visual world, anchored in allocentric coordinates. To explore this possibility, we measured the positional Motion Aftereffect (PMAE: the apparent change in position after adaptation to motion) with head-tilts of ~42 degrees between adaptation and test (to dissociate retinal from allocentric coordinates). The aftereffect was shown to have both a retinotopic and spatiotopic component. When tested with unpatterned Gaussian blobs rather than sinusoidal grating stimuli, the retinotopic component was greatly reduced, while the spatiotopic component remained. The results suggest that perceptual stability may be maintained at least partially through mechanisms involving spatiotopic coding.



2015 (back to top)

Binda, P. & Murray, S. O. (2015). Keeping a large-pupilled eye on high-level visual processing,Trends Cogn Sci, PDF

The pupillary light response has long been considered an elementary reflex. However, evidence now shows that it integrates information from such complex phenomena as attention, contextual processing, and imagery. These discoveries make pupillometry a promising tool for an entirely new application: the study of high-level vision.

Cicchini, G. M. & Kristjànsson, A. (2015). On the Possibility of a Unifying Framework for Serial Dependencies, i-Perception, 6(6) 1–16. PDF

Serial effects in perception have been studied since the dawn of psychophysics. Color aftereffects greatly advanced the understanding of color vision in the 19th century, and motion aftereffects have intrigued perceptual scientists for centuries. Recent discoveries in visual attention and psychophysics have intensifed interest in such effects. The current consensus is that they are not curiosities but serve an important function and can be critical for understanding perception.
The current article summarizes the contributions to a recent conference (SFX 2014, Pisa, Italy) and underscores the idea that the brain has learned how to exploit temporal regularities in the environment.

Binda, P. & Murray, S. O. (2015). Spatial attention increases the pupillary response to light changes,J Vis, 2 (15), 1. PDF

We measured pupil size in adult human subjects while we manipulated both the luminance of the visual scene and the location of attention. We found that, with central fixation maintained, pupillary constrictions and dilations evoked by peripheral luminance increments and decrements are larger when spatial attention is covertly (i.e., with no eye movements) directed to the stimulus region versus when it is directed to the opposite hemifield. Irrespective of the size of the attended region (focused at the center of the stimulus or spread within and outside the stimulus), the attentional enhancement is large: more than 20% of the response to stimuli in the unattended hemifield. This indicates that a sizable portion of this simple ocular behavior-often considered a subcortical "reflex"-in fact depends on cortical processing. Together, these features indicate that pupillometry is not only an index of retinal and brainstem function, but also an objective measure of complex constructs such as attention and its effects on sensory processing.

Karaminis, T., Turi, M., Neil, L., Badcock, N. A., Burr, D. & Pellicano, E. (2015). Atypicalities in perceptual adaptation in autism do not extend to perceptual causality,PLoS One, 3 (10), e0120439. PDF

A recent study showed that adaptation to causal events (collisions) in adults caused subsequent events to be less likely perceived as causal. In this study, we examined if a similar negative adaptation effect for perceptual causality occurs in children, both typically developing and with autism. Previous studies have reported diminished adaptation for face identity, facial configuration and gaze direction in children with autism. To test whether diminished adaptive coding extends beyond high-level social stimuli (such as faces) and could be a general property of autistic perception, we developed a child-friendly paradigm for adaptation of perceptual causality. We compared the performance of 22 children with autism with 22 typically developing children, individually matched on age and ability (IQ scores). We found significant and equally robust adaptation aftereffects for perceptual causality in both groups. There were also no differences between the two groups in their attention, as revealed by reaction times and accuracy in a change-detection task. These findings suggest that adaptation to perceptual causality in autism is largely similar to typical development and, further, that diminished adaptive coding might not be a general characteristic of autism at low levels of the perceptual hierarchy, constraining existing theories of adaptation in autism.

Lunghi, C. & Alais, D. (2015). Congruent tactile stimulation reduces the strength of visual suppression during binocular rivalry,Sci. Rep., (5), PDF

Presenting different images to each eye triggers ‘binocular rivalry’ in which one image is visible and the other suppressed, with the visible image alternating every second or so. We previously showed that binocular rivalry between cross-oriented gratings is altered when the fingertip explores a grooved stimulus aligned with one of the rivaling gratings: the matching visual grating's dominance duration was lengthened and its suppression duration shortened. In a more robust test, we here measure visual contrast sensitivity during rivalry dominance and suppression, with and without exploration of the grooved surface, to determine if rivalry suppression strength is modulated by touch. We find that a visual grating undergoes 45% less suppression when observers touch an aligned grating, compared to a cross-oriented one. Touching an aligned grating also improved visual detection thresholds for the ‘invisible’ suppressed grating by 2.4?dB, relative to a vision-only condition. These results show that congruent haptic stimulation prevents a visual stimulus from becoming deeply suppressed in binocular rivalry. Moreover, because congruent touch acted on the phenomenally invisible grating, this visuo-haptic interaction must precede awareness and likely occurs early in visual processing.

Anobile, G., Turi, M., Cicchini, G. M. & Burr, D. (2015). Mechanisms for perception of numerosity or texture-density are governed by crowding-like effects,Journal of Vision, 15(5), 1-12. PDF

We have recently provided evidence that the perception of number and texture density is mediated by two independent mechanisms: numerosity mechanisms at relatively low numbers, obeying Weber’s law, and texture-density mechanisms at higher numerosities, following a square root law. In this study we investigated whether the switch between the two mechanisms depends on the capacity to segregate individual dots, and therefore follows similar laws to those governing visual crowding. We measured numerosity discrimination for a wide range of numerosities at three eccentricities. We found that the point where the numerosity regime (Weber’s law) gave way to the density regime (square root law) depended on eccentricity. In central vision, the regime changed at 2.3 dots/82, while at 158 eccentricity, it changed at 0.5 dots/82, three times less dense. As a consequence, thresholds for low numerosities increased with eccentricity, while at higher numerosities thresholds remained constant. We further showed that like crowding, the regime change was independent of dot size, depending on distance between dot centers, not distance between dot edges or ink coverage. Performance was not affected by stimulus contrast or blur, indicating that the transition does not depend on low-level stimulus properties. Our results reinforce the notion that numerosity and texture are mediated by two distinct processes, depending on whether the individual elements are perceptually segregable. Which mechanism is engaged follows laws that determine crowding.

Aagten-Murphy, D., Attucci, C., Daniel, N., Klaric, E., Burr, D. & Pellicano, E. (2015). Numerical estimation in children with autism,Autism Res, PDF

Number skills are often reported anecdotally and in the mass media as a relative strength for individuals with autism, yet there are remarkably few research studies addressing this issue. This study, therefore, sought to examine autistic children's number estimation skills and whether variation in these skills can explain at least in part strengths and weaknesses in children's mathematical achievement. Thirty-two cognitively able children with autism (range = 8-13 years) and 32 typical children of similar age and ability were administered a standardized test of mathematical achievement and two estimation tasks, one psychophysical nonsymbolic estimation (numerosity discrimination) task and one symbolic estimation (numberline) task. Children with autism performed worse than typical children on the numerosity task, on the numberline task, which required mapping numerical values onto space, and on the test of mathematical achievement. These findings question the widespread belief that mathematical skills are generally enhanced in autism. For both groups of children, variation in performance on the numberline task was also uniquely related to their academic achievement, over and above variation in intellectual ability; better number-to-space mapping skills went hand-in-hand with better arithmetic skills. Future research should further determine the extent and underlying causes of some autistic children's difficulties with regards to number. Autism Res 2015. (c) 2015 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Arrighi, R., Binda, P. & Cicchini, G. M. (2015). Introduction to the Special Issue on Multimodality of Early Sensory Processing: Early Visual Maps Flexibly Encode Multimodal Space, Multisensory Research, 3-4 (28), 249-252. PDF

As living organisms, we have the capability to explore our environments through different senses, each making use of specialized organs and return ing unique information. This is relayed to a set of cortical areas, each of which appears to be specialized for processing information from a single sense — hence the definition of ‘unisensory’ areas. Many models assume that primary unisensory cortices passively reproduce information from each sensory organ; these then project to associative areas, which actively combine multisensory signals with each other and with cognitive stances. By the same token, the textbook view holds that sensory cortices undergo plastic changes only within a limited ‘critical period’; their function and architecture should remain stable and unchangeable thereafter. This model has led to many fundamental discoveries on the architecture of the sensory systems (e.g., oriented receptive fields, binocularity, topographic maps, to name just the best known). However, a growing body of evidence calls for a review of this conceptual scheme. Based on single-cell recordings from non-human primates, fMRI in humans, psychophysics, and sensory deprivation studies, early sensory areas are losing their status of fixed readouts of receptor activity; they are turning into functional nodes in a network of brain areas that flexibly adapts to the statistics of the input and the behavioral goals. This special issue in Multisensory Research aims to cover three such lines of evidence: suggesting that (1) the flexibility of spatial representations, (2) adult plasticity and (3) multimodality, are not properties of associative areas alone, but may depend on the primary visual cortex V1.

Melcher, D., Morrone, M. C. (2015). Nonretinotopic visual processing in the brain,Vis Neurosci, 32, e017. PDF

A basic principle in visual neuroscience is the retinotopic organization of neural receptive fields. Here, we review behavioral, neurophysiological, and neuroimaging evidence for nonretinotopic processing of visual stimuli. A number of behavioral studies have shown perception depending on object or external-space coordinate systems, in addition to retinal coordinates. Both single-cell neurophysiology and neuroimaging have provided evidence for the modulation of neural firing by gaze position and processing of visual information based on craniotopic or spatiotopic coordinates. Transient remapping of the spatial and temporal properties of neurons contingent on saccadic eye movements has been demonstrated in visual cortex, as well as frontal and parietal areas involved in saliency/priority maps, and is a good candidate to mediate some of the spatial invariance demonstrated by perception. Recent studies suggest that spatiotopic selectivity depends on a low spatial resolution system of maps that operates over a longer time frame than retinotopic processing and is strongly modulated by high-level cognitive factors such as attention. The interaction of an initial and rapid retinotopic processing stage, tied to new fixations, and a longer lasting but less precise nonretinotopic level of visual representation could underlie the perception of both a detailed and a stable visual world across saccadic eye movements.

Tinelli, F., Anobile, G., Gori, M., Aagten-Murphy, D., Bartoli, M., Burr, D. C., et al. Time, number and attention in very low birth weight children,Neuropsychologia, 2015 PDF

Abstract Premature birth has been associated with damage in many regions of the cerebral cortex, although there is a particularly strong susceptibility for damage within the parieto-occipital lobes (Volpe, 2009). As these areas have been shown to be critical for both visual attention and magnitudes perception (time, space, and number), it is important to investigate the impact of prematurity on both the magnitude and attentional systems, particularly for children without overt white matter injuries, where the lack of obvious injury may cause their difficulties to remain unnoticed. In this study, we investigated the ability to judge time intervals (visual, audio and audio-visual temporal bisection), discriminate between numerical quantities (numerosity comparison), map numbers onto space (numberline task) and to maintain visuo-spatial attention (multiple-object-tracking) in school-age preterm children (N29). The results show that various parietal functions may be more or less robust to prematurity-related difficulties, with strong impairments found on time estimation and attentional task, while numerical discrimination or mapping tasks remained relatively unimpaired. Thus while our study generally supports the hypothesis of a dorsal stream vulnerability in children born preterm relative to other cortical locations, it further suggests that particular cognitive processes, as highlighted by performance on different tasks, are far more susceptible than others.

Menicucci, D., Piarulli, A., Allegrini, P., Bedini, R., Bergamasco, M., Laurino, M., et al. (2015). Looking for a precursor of spontaneous Sleep Slow Oscillations in human sleep: The role of the sigma activity, Int J Psychophysiol, 2 (97), 99-107. PDF

Sleep Slow Oscillations (SSOs), paradigmatic EEG markers of cortical bistability (alternation between cellular downstates and upstates), and sleep spindles, paradigmatic EEG markers of thalamic rhythm, are two hallmarks of sleeping brain. Selective thalamic lesions are reportedly associated to reductions of spindle activity and its spectrum ~14 Hz (sigma), and to alterations of SSO features. This apparent, parallel behavior suggests that thalamo-cortical entrainment favors cortical bistability. Here we investigate temporally-causal associations between thalamic sigma activity and shape, topology, and dynamics of SSOs. We recorded sleep EEG and studied whether spatio-temporal variability of SSO amplitude, negative slope (synchronization in downstate falling) and detection rate are driven by cortical-sigma-activity expression (12-18Hz), in 3 consecutive 1s-EEG-epochs preceding each SSO event (Baselines). We analyzed: (i) spatial variability, comparing maps of baseline sigma power and of SSO features, averaged over the first sleep cycle; (ii) event-by-event shape variability, computing for each electrode correlations between baseline sigma power and amplitude/slope of related SSOs; (iii) event-by-event spreading variability, comparing baseline sigma power in electrodes showing an SSO event with the homologous ones, spared by the event. The scalp distribution of baseline sigma power mirrored those of SSO amplitude and slope; event-by-event variability in baseline sigma power was associated with that in SSO amplitude in fronto-central areas; within each SSO event, electrodes involved in cortical bistability presented higher baseline sigma activity than those free of SSO. In conclusion, spatio-temporal variability of thalamocortical entrainment, measured by background sigma activity, is a reliable estimate of the cortical proneness to bistability.

Sebastiani, L., Castellani, E., Gemignani, A., Artoni, F. & Menicucci, D. (2015). Inefficient stimulus processing at encoding affects formation of high-order general representation: A study on cross-modal word-stem completion task, Brain Res, (1622), 386-396. PDF

Priming is an implicit memory effect in which previous exposure to one stimulus influences the response to another stimulus. The main characteristic of priming is that it occurs without awareness. Priming takes place also when the physical attributes of previously studied and test stimuli do not match; in fact, it greatly refers to a general stimulus representation activated at encoding independently of the sensory modality engaged. Our aim was to evaluate whether, in a cross-modal word-stem completion task, negative priming scores could depend on inefficient word processing at study and therefore on an altered stimulus representation. Words were presented in the auditory modality, and word-stems to be completed in the visual modality. At study, we recorded auditory ERPs, and compared the P300 (attention/memory) and N400 (meaning processing) of individuals with positive and negative priming. Besides classical averaging-based ERPs analysis, we used an ICA-based method (ErpICASSO) to separate the potentials related to different processes contributing to ERPs. Classical analysis yielded significant difference between the two waves across the whole scalp. ErpICASSO allowed separating the novelty-related P3a and the top-down control-related P3b sub-components of P300. Specifically, in the component C3, the positive deflection identifiable as P3b, was significantly greater in the positive than in the negative priming group, while the late negative deflection corresponding to the parietal N400, was reduced in the positive priming group. In conclusion, inadequacy of specific processes at encoding, such as attention and/or meaning retrieval, could generate weak semantic representations, making words less accessible in subsequent implicit retrieval.

Tomassini, A., Spinelli, D., Jacono, M., Sandini, G. & Morrone, M. C. (2015). Rhythmic oscillations of visual contrast sensitivity synchronized with action,J Neurosci, 18 (35), 7019-7029. PDF

It is well known that the motor and the sensory systems structure sensory data collection and cooperate to achieve an efficient integration and exchange of information. Increasing evidence suggests that both motor and sensory functions are regulated by rhythmic processes reflecting alternating states of neuronal excitability, and these may be involved in mediating sensory-motor interactions. Here we show an oscillatory fluctuation in early visual processing time locked with the execution of voluntary action, and, crucially, even for visual stimuli irrelevant to the motor task. Human participants were asked to perform a reaching movement toward a display and judge the orientation of a Gabor patch, near contrast threshold, briefly presented at random times before and during the reaching movement. When the data are temporally aligned to the onset of movement, visual contrast sensitivity oscillates with periodicity within the theta band. Importantly, the oscillations emerge during the motor planning stage, approximately 500 ms before movement onset. We suggest that brain oscillatory dynamics may mediate an automatic coupling between early motor planning and early visual processing, possibly instrumental in linking and closing up the visual-motor control loop.

Lunghi, C., Emir, U. E., Morrone, M. C. & Bridge, H. (2015). Short-Term Monocular Deprivation Alters GABA in the Adult Human Visual Cortex,Curr Biol, 11 (25), 1496-1501. PDF

Neuroplasticity is a fundamental property of the nervous system that is maximal early in life, within the critical period [1-3]. Resting GABAergic inhibition is necessary to trigger ocular dominance plasticity and to modulate the onset and offset of the critical period [4, 5]. GABAergic inhibition also plays a crucial role in neuroplasticity of adult animals: the balance between excitation and inhibition in the primary visual cortex (V1), measured at rest, modulates the susceptibility of ocular dominance to deprivation [6-10]. In adult humans, short-term monocular deprivation strongly modifies ocular balance, unexpectedly boosting the deprived eye, reflecting homeostatic plasticity [11, 12]. There is no direct evidence, however, to support resting GABAergic inhibition in homeostatic plasticity induced by visual deprivation. Here, we tested the hypothesis that GABAergic inhibition, measured at rest, is reduced by deprivation, as demonstrated by animal studies. GABA concentration in V1 of adult humans was measured using ultra-high-field 7T magnetic resonance spectroscopy before and after short-term monocular deprivation. After monocular deprivation, resting GABA concentration decreased in V1 but was unaltered in a control parietal area. Importantly, across participants, the decrease in GABA strongly correlated with the deprived eye perceptual boost measured by binocular rivalry. Furthermore, after deprivation, GABA concentration measured during monocular stimulation correlated with the deprived eye dominance. We suggest that reduction in resting GABAergic inhibition triggers homeostatic plasticity in adult human V1 after a brief period of abnormal visual experience. These results are potentially useful for developing new therapeutic strategies that could exploit the intrinsic residual plasticity of the adult human visual cortex.

Greco, V., Frijia, F., Mikellidou, K., Montanaro, D., Farini, A., D'Uva, M., et al. (2015). A low-cost and versatile system for projecting wide-field visual stimuli within fMRI scanners,Behav Res Methods, PDF

We have constructed and tested a custom-made magnetic-imaging-compatible visual projection system designed to project on a very wide visual field (~80 degrees ). A standard projector was modified with a coupling lens, projecting images into the termination of an image fiber. The other termination of the fiber was placed in the 3-T scanner room with a projection lens, which projected the images relayed by the fiber onto a screen over the head coil, viewed by a participant wearing magnifying goggles. To validate the system, wide-field stimuli were presented in order to identify retinotopic visual areas. The results showed that this low-cost and versatile optical system may be a valuable tool to map visual areas in the brain that process peripheral receptive fields.

Turi, M., Burr, D. C., Igliozzi, R., Aagten-Murphy, D., Muratori, F. & Pellicano, E. (2015). Children with autism spectrum disorder show reduced adaptation to number,Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, PDF

Autism is known to be associated with major perceptual atypicalities. We have recently proposed a general model to account for these atypicalities in Bayesian terms, suggesting that autistic individuals underuse predictive information or priors. We tested this idea by measuring adaptation to numerosity stimuli in children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). After exposure to large numbers of items, stimuli with fewer items appear to be less numerous (and vice versa). We found that children with ASD adapted much less to numerosity than typically developing children, although their precision for numerosity discrimination was similar to that of the typical group. This result reinforces recent findings showing reduced adaptation to facial identity in ASD and goes on to show that reduced adaptation is not unique to faces (social stimuli with special significance in autism), but occurs more generally, for both parietal and temporal functions, probably reflecting inefficiencies in the adaptive interpretation of sensory signals. These results provide strong support for the Bayesian theories of autism.

Cicchini, G. M., Marino, C., Mascheretti, S., Perani, D. & Morrone, M. C. (2015). Strong Motion Deficits in Dyslexia Associated with DCDC2 Gene Alteration,J Neurosci, 21 (35), 8059-8064. PDF

Dyslexia is a specific impairment in reading that affects 1 in 10 people. Previous studies have failed to isolate a single cause of the disorder, but several candidate genes have been reported. We measured motion perception in two groups of dyslexics, with and without a deletion within the DCDC2 gene, a risk gene for dyslexia. We found impairment for motion particularly strong at high spatial frequencies in the population carrying the deletion. The data suggest that deficits in motion processing occur in a specific genotype, rather than the entire dyslexia population, contributing to the large variability in impairment of motion thresholds in dyslexia reported in the literature.

Mikellidou, K., Cicchini, G. M., Thompson, P. G. & Burr, D. C. (2015). The oblique effect is both allocentric and egocentric,Journal of Vision, 8 (15), 24-24. PDF

Despite continuous movements of the head, humans maintain a stable representation of the visual world, which seems to remain always upright. The mechanisms behind this stability are largely unknown. To gain some insight on how head tilt affects visual perception, we investigate whether a well-known orientation-dependent visual phenomenon, the oblique effect—superior performance for stimuli at cardinal orientations (0° and 90°) compared with oblique orientations (45°)—is anchored in egocentric or allocentric coordinates. To this aim, we measured orientation discrimination thresholds at various orientations for different head positions both in body upright and in supine positions. We report that, in the body upright position, the oblique effect remains anchored in allocentric coordinates irrespective of head position. When lying supine, gravitational effects in the plane orthogonal to gravity are discounted. Under these conditions, the oblique effect was less marked than when upright, and anchored in egocentric coordinates. The results are well explained by a simple “compulsory fusion” model in which the head-based and the gravity-based signals are combined with different weightings (30% and 70%, respectively), even when this leads to reduced sensitivity in orientation discrimination.

Gemignani, J., Agrimi, J., Cheli, E., Gemignani, A., Laurino, M., Allegrini, P., Landi, A., Menicucci, D., (2015, 25-29 Aug. 2015). Pattern recognition with adaptive-thresholds for sleep spindle in high density EEG signals. Paper presented at the Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society (EMBC), 2015 37th Annual International Conference of the IEEE. PDF

Sleep spindles are electroencephalographic oscillations peculiar of non-REM sleep, related to neuronal mechanisms underlying sleep restoration and learning consolidation. Based on their very singular morphology, sleep spindles can be visually recognized and detected, even though this approach can lead to significant mis-detections. For this reason, many efforts have been put in developing a reliable algorithm for spindle automatic detection, and a number of methods, based on different techniques, have been tested via visual validation. This work aims at improving current pattern recognition procedures for sleep spindles detection by taking into account their physiological sources of variability. We provide a method as a synthesis of the current state of art that, improving dynamic threshold adaptation, is able to follow modification of spindle characteristics as a function of sleep depth and inter-subjects variability. The algorithm has been applied to physiological data recorded by a high density EEG in order to perform a validation based on visual inspection and on evaluation of expected results from normal night sleep in healthy subjects.

Biagi, L., Crespi, S. A., Tosetti, M. & Morrone, M. C. (2015). BOLD Response Selective to Flow-Motion in Very Young Infants, PLoS Biol, 9 (13), e1002260. PDF

In adults, motion perception is mediated by an extensive network of occipital, parietal, temporal, and insular cortical areas. Little is known about the neural substrate of visual motion in infants, although behavioural studies suggest that motion perception is rudimentary at birth and matures steadily over the first few years. Here, by measuring Blood Oxygenated Level Dependent (BOLD) responses to flow versus random-motion stimuli, we demonstrate that the major cortical areas serving motion processing in adults are operative by 7 wk of age. Resting-state correlations demonstrate adult-like functional connectivity between the motion-selective associative areas, but not between primary cortex and temporo-occipital and posterior-insular cortices. Taken together, the results suggest that the development of motion perception may be limited by slow maturation of the subcortical input and of the cortico-cortical connections. In addition they support the existence of independent input to primary (V1) and temporo-occipital (V5/MT+) cortices very early in life.

Fornaciai, M. & Binda, P. (2015). Effect of saccade automaticity on perisaccadic space compression, Front Syst Neurosci, (9), 127. PDF

Briefly presented stimuli occurring just before or during a saccadic eye movement are mislocalized, leading to a compression of visual space toward the target of the saccade. In most cases this has been measured in subjects over-trained to perform a stereotyped and unnatural task where saccades are repeatedly driven to the same location, marked by a highly salient abrupt onset. Here, we asked to what extent the pattern of perisaccadic mislocalization depends on this specific context. We addressed this question by studying perisaccadic localization in a set of participants with no prior experience in eye-movement research, measuring localization performance as they practiced the saccade task. Localization was marginally affected by practice over the course of the experiment and it was indistinguishable from the performance of expert observers. The mislocalization also remained similar when the expert observers were tested in a condition leading to less stereotypical saccadic behavior-with no abrupt onset marking the saccade target location. These results indicate that perisaccadic compression is a robust behavior, insensitive to the specific paradigm used to drive saccades and to the level of practice with the saccade task.

Bock, A. S., Binda, P., Benson, N. C., Bridge, H., Watkins, K. E. & Fine, I. (2015). Resting-State Retinotopic Organization in the Absence of Retinal Input and Visual Experience,J Neurosci, 36 (35), 12366-12382. PDF

Early visual areas have neuronal receptive fields that form a sampling mosaic of visual space, resulting in a series of retinotopic maps in which the same region of space is represented in multiple visual areas. It is not clear to what extent the development and maintenance of this retinotopic organization in humans depend on retinal waves and/or visual experience. We examined the corticocortical receptive field organization of resting-state BOLD data in normally sighted, early blind, and anophthalmic (in which both eyes fail to develop) individuals and found that resting-state correlations between V1 and V2/V3 were retinotopically organized for all subject groups. These results show that the gross retinotopic pattern of resting-state connectivity across V1-V3 requires neither retinal waves nor visual experience to develop and persist into adulthood.
SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT: Evidence from resting-state BOLD data suggests that the connections between early visual areas develop and are maintained even in the absence of retinal waves and visual experience.

Anobile, G., Cicchini, G. M. & Burr, D. C. (2015). Number as a primary perceptual attribute: a review, Perception 1-27 DOI: 10.1177/0301006615602599. PDF

Although humans are the only species to possess language-driven abstract mathematical capacities, we share with many other animals a nonverbal capacity for estimating quantities or numerosity. For some time, researchers have clearly differentiated between small numbers of items—less than about four—referred to as the subitizing  range, and larger numbers, where counting or estimation is required. In this review, we examine more recent evidence suggesting a further division, between sets of items greater than the subitizing range, but sparse enough to be individuated as single items; and densely packed stimuli, where they crowd each other into what is betterconsidered as a texture. These two different regimes are psychophysically discriminable in that they follow distinct psychophysical laws and show different dependencies on eccentricity and on luminance levels. But provided the elements are not too crowded (less than about two items per square degree in central vision, less in the periphery), there is little evidence that estimation of numerosity depends on mechanisms responsive to texture. The distinction is important, as the ability to discriminate numerosity, but not texture, correlates with formal maths skills.

Lunghi, C., Berchicci, M., Morrone, M. C. & Di Russo, F. (2015). Short-term monocular deprivation alters early components of visual evoked potentials, J Physiol, 19 (593), 4361-4372. PDF

Very little is known about plasticity in the adult visual cortex. In recent years psychophysical studies have shown that short-term monocular deprivation alters visual perception in adult humans. Specifically, after 150 min of monocular deprivation the deprived eye strongly dominates the dynamics of binocular rivalry, reflecting homeostatic plasticity. Here we investigate the neural mechanisms underlying this form of short-term visual cortical plasticity by measuring visual evoked potentials (VEPs) on the scalp of adult humans during monocular stimulation before and after 150 min of monocular deprivation. We found that monocular deprivation had opposite effects on the amplitude of the earliest component of the VEP (C1) for the deprived and non-deprived eye stimulation. C1 amplitude increased (+66%) for the deprived eye, while it decreased (-29%) for the non-deprived eye. Source localization analysis confirmed that the C1 originates in the primary visual cortex. We further report that following monocular deprivation, the amplitude of the peak of the evoked alpha spectrum increased on average by 23% for the deprived eye and decreased on average by 10% for the non-deprived eye, indicating a change in cortical excitability. These results indicate that a brief period of monocular deprivation alters interocular balance in the primary visual cortex of adult humans by both boosting the activity of the deprived eye and reducing the activity of the non-deprived eye. This indicates a high level of residual homeostatic plasticity in the adult human primary visual cortex, probably mediated by a change in cortical excitability.

Zimmermann, E., Morrone, M. C. & Burr, D. (2015). Visual mislocalization during saccade sequences,Exp Brain Res, 2 (233), 577-585. PDF

Visual objects briefly presented around the time of saccadic eye movements are perceived compressed towards the saccade target. Here, we investigated perisaccadic mislocalization with a double-step saccade paradigm, measuring localization of small probe dots briefly flashed at various times around the sequence of the two saccades. At onset of the first saccade, probe dots were mislocalized towards the first and, to a lesser extent, also towards the second saccade target. However, there was very little mislocalization at the onset of the second saccade. When we increased the presentation duration of the saccade targets prior to onset of the saccade sequence, perisaccadic mislocalization did occur at the onset of the second saccade.

Lunghi, C. & Sale, A. (2015). A cycling lane for brain rewiring, Curr Biol, 23 (25), R1122-R1123. PDF

Brain plasticity, defined as the capability of cerebral neurons to change in response to experience, is fundamental for behavioral adaptability, learning, memory, functional development, and neural repair. The visual cortex is a widely used model for studying neuroplasticity and the underlying mechanisms. Plasticity is maximal in early development, within the so-called critical period, while its levels abruptly decline in adulthood [1]. Recent studies, however, have revealed a significant residual plastic potential of the adult visual cortex by showing that, in adult humans, short-term monocular deprivation alters ocular dominance by homeostatically boosting responses to the deprived eye [2-4]. In animal models, a reopening of critical period plasticity in the adult primary visual cortex has been obtained by a variety of environmental manipulations, such as dark exposure, or environmental enrichment, together with its critical component of enhanced physical exercise [5-8]. Among these non-invasive procedures, physical exercise emerges as particularly interesting for its potential of application to clinics, though there has been a lack of experimental evidence available that physical exercise actually promotes visual plasticity in humans. Here we report that short-term homeostatic plasticity of the adult human visual cortex induced by transient monocular deprivation is potently boosted by moderate levels of voluntary physical activity. These findings could have a bearing in orienting future research in the field of physical activity application to clinical research.

Cicchini, G. M. & Kristjànsson, A. (2015). On the Possibility of a Unifying Framework for Serial Dependencies, i-Perception, 6(6) 1–16. PDF

erial effects in perception have been studied since the dawn of psychophysics. Color aftereffects greatly advanced the understanding of color vision in the 19th century, and motion aftereffects have intrigued perceptual scientists for centuries. Recent discoveries in visual attention and psychophysics have intensifed interest in such effects. The current consensus is that they are not curiosities but serve an important function and can be critical for understanding perception.
The current article summarizes the contributions to a recent conference (SFX 2014, Pisa, Italy) and underscores the idea that the brain has learned how to exploit temporal regularities in the environment.



2014 (back to top)

Lunghi, C., Morrone, M. C. & Alais, D. (2014). Auditory and tactile signals combine to influence vision during binocular rivalry,J Neurosci, 3 (34), 784-792. PDF

Resolution of perceptual ambiguity is one function of cross-modal interactions. Here we investigate whether auditory and tactile stimuli can influence binocular rivalry generated by interocular temporal conflict in human subjects. Using dichoptic visual stimuli modulating at different temporal frequencies, we added modulating sounds or vibrations congruent with one or the other visual temporal frequency. Auditory and tactile stimulation both interacted with binocular rivalry by promoting dominance of the congruent visual stimulus. This effect depended on the cross-modal modulation strength and was absent when modulation depth declined to 33%. However, when auditory and tactile stimuli that were too weak on their own to bias binocular rivalry were combined, their influence over vision was very strong, suggesting the auditory and tactile temporal signals combined to influence vision. Similarly, interleaving discrete pulses of auditory and tactile stimuli also promoted dominance of the visual stimulus congruent with the supramodal frequency. When auditory and tactile stimuli were presented at maximum strength, but in antiphase, they had no influence over vision for low temporal frequencies, a null effect again suggesting audio-tactile combination. We also found that the cross-modal interaction was frequency-sensitive at low temporal frequencies, when information about temporal phase alignment can be perceptually tracked. These results show that auditory and tactile temporal processing is functionally linked, suggesting a common neural substrate for the two sensory modalities and that at low temporal frequencies visual activity can be synchronized by a congruent cross-modal signal in a frequency-selective way, suggesting the existence of a supramodal temporal binding mechanism.

Chilosi, A. M., Comparini, A., Cristofani, P., Turi, M., Berrettini, S., Forli, F., et al. (2014). Cerebral lateralization for language in deaf children with cochlear implantation,Brain Lang, (129), 1-6. PDF

Functional Transcranial Doppler ultrasonography (fTCD) was used to investigate the effects of early acoustic deprivation and subsequent reafferentation on cerebral dominance for language in deaf children provided with Cochlear Implantation (CI). Twenty children with CI (13 in right ear and 7 in left ear) and 20 controls matched for age, sex and handedness were administered a fTCD animation description task. Left hemisphere dominance for language with comparable mean Laterality Indexes (LIs) was found in children with CI and controls; right-ear implanted subjects showed cerebral activation controlateral to implanted ear more frequently than left-ear implanted ones. Linguistic proficiency of CI recipients was below age expectation in comparison to controls; language scores did not significantly differ between children with left and right LI, whereas both age and side of implantation were significantly related to language outcome. Theoretical implication and potential clinical application of fTCD in CI management are discussed.

Morrone, M. C. (2014). Interaction between Eye Movements and Vision: Perception during Saccades. In J. S. W. L. M. Chalupa (Ed.), The New Visual Neuroscience (2nd ed., pp. 947 -962): MIT Press. PDF

Cicchini, G. M., Anobile, G. & Burr, D. C. (2014). Compressive mapping of number to space reflects dynamic encoding mechanisms, not static logarithmic transform,Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 21 (111), 7867-7872. PDF

The mapping of number onto space is fundamental to measurement and mathematics. However, the mapping of young children, unschooled adults, and adults under attentional load shows strong compressive nonlinearities, thought to reflect intrinsic logarithmic encoding mechanisms, which are later "linearized" by education. Here we advance and test an alternative explanation: that the nonlinearity results from adaptive mechanisms incorporating the statistics of recent stimuli. This theory predicts that the response to the current trial should depend on the magnitude of the previous trial, whereas a static logarithmic nonlinearity predicts trialwise independence. We found a strong and highly significant relationship between numberline mapping of the current trial and the magnitude of the previous trial, in both adults and school children, with the current response influenced by up to 15% of the previous trial value. The dependency is sufficient to account for the shape of the numberline, without requiring logarithmic transform. We show that this dynamic strategy results in a reduction of reproduction error, and hence improvement in accuracy.

Mikellidou, K. & Thompson, P. (2014). Crossing the line: Estimations of line length in the Oppel-Kundt illusion,J Vis, 8 (14), PDF

In the Oppel-Kundt illusion, one of the oldest and least understood geometrical visual illusions, a line subdivided by a series of short orthogonal ticks appears longer than an identical line without these. Paradoxically, bisecting a long line with a single tick leads to perceived shortening of the line. We have systematically investigated the effects of adding 1 to 12 ticks on perceived line length and results suggest that at least three mechanisms must be at work: (a) bisection, which reduces perceived length; (b) a filled extent effect, which is also apparent in the von Helmholtz illusion, though no satisfactory explanation for it exists; and (c) a local contour repulsion effect of the penultimate tick upon the perceived position of the end tick, but this effect, though significant, is too small to explain the Oppel-Kundt illusion in its entirety.

Tomassini, A., Gori, M., Baud-Bovy, G., Sandini, G. & Morrone, M. C. (2014). Motor commands induce time compression for tactile stimuli,J Neurosci, 27 (34), 9164-9172. PDF

Saccades cause compression of visual space around the saccadic target, and also a compression of time, both phenomena thought to be related to the problem of maintaining saccadic stability (Morrone et al., 2005; Burr and Morrone, 2011). Interestingly, similar phenomena occur at the time of hand movements, when tactile stimuli are systematically mislocalized in the direction of the movement (Dassonville, 1995; Watanabe et al., 2009). In this study, we measured whether hand movements also cause an alteration of the perceived timing of tactile signals. Human participants compared the temporal separation between two pairs of tactile taps while moving their right hand in response to an auditory cue. The first pair of tactile taps was presented at variable times with respect to movement with a fixed onset asynchrony of 150 ms. Two seconds after test presentation, when the hand was stationary, the second pair of taps was delivered with a variable temporal separation. Tactile stimuli could be delivered to either the right moving or left stationary hand. When the tactile stimuli were presented to the motor effector just before and during movement, their perceived temporal separation was reduced. The time compression was effector-specific, as perceived time was veridical for the left stationary hand. The results indicate that time intervals are compressed around the time of hand movements. As for vision, the mislocalizations of time and space for touch stimuli may be consequences of a mechanism attempting to achieve perceptual stability during tactile exploration of objects, suggesting common strategies within different sensorimotor systems.

Anobile, G., Cicchini, G. M. & Burr, D. C. (2014). Separate mechanisms for perception of numerosity and density,Psychol Sci, 1 (25), 265-270. PDF

Despite the existence of much evidence for a number sense in humans, several researchers have questioned whether number is sensed directly or derived indirectly from texture density. Here, we provide clear evidence that numerosity and density judgments are subserved by distinct mechanisms with different psychophysical characteristics. We measured sensitivity for numerosity discrimination over a wide range of numerosities: For low densities (less than 0.25 dots/deg(2)), thresholds increased directly with numerosity, following Weber's law; for higher densities, thresholds increased with the square root of texture density, a steady decrease in the Weber fraction. The existence of two different psychophysical systems is inconsistent with a model in which number is derived indirectly from noisy estimates of density and area; rather, it points to the existence of separate mechanisms for estimating density and number. These results provide strong confirmation for the existence of neural mechanisms that sense number directly, rather than indirectly from texture density.

Sciutti, A., Burr, D., Saracco, A., Sandini, G. & Gori, M. (2014). Development of context-dependency in human space perception,Exp Brain Res, PDF

Perception is a complex process, where prior knowledge exerts a fundamental influence over what we see. The use of priors is at the basis of the well-known phenomenon of central tendency: Judgments of almost all quantities (such as length, duration, and number) tend to gravitate toward their mean magnitude. Although such context-dependency is universal in adult perceptual judgments, how it develops with age remains unknown. We asked children from 7 to 14 years of age and adults to reproduce lengths of stimuli drawn from different distributions and evaluated whether judgments were influenced by stimulus context. All participants reproduced the presented length differently depending on the context: The same stimulus was reproduced as shorter, when on average stimuli were short, and as longer, when on average stimuli were long. Interestingly, the relative importance given to the current sensory signal and to priors was almost constant during childhood. This strategy, which in adults is optimal in Bayesian terms, is apparently successful in holding the sensory noise at bay even during development. Hence, the influence of previous knowledge on perception is present already in young children, suggesting that context-dependency is established early in the developing brain.

Zimmermann, E., Morrone, M. C. & Burr, D. C. (2014). Buildup of spatial information over time and across eye-movements,Behavioural brain research, PDF

To interact rapidly and effectively with our environment, our brain needs access to a neural represen-tation of the spatial layout of the external world. However, the construction of such a map poses majorchallenges, as the images on our retinae depend on where the eyes are looking, and shift each time wemove our eyes, head and body to explore the world. Research from many laboratories including ourown suggests that the visual system does compute spatial maps that are anchored to real-world coordi-nates. However, the construction of these maps takes time (up to 500 ms) and also attentional resources.We discuss research investigating how retinotopic reference frames are transformed into spatiotopicreference-frames, and how this transformation takes time to complete. These results have implicationsfor theories about visual space coordinates and particularly for the current debate about the existence ofspatiotopic representations.

Gori, M., Sandini, G., Martinoli, C. & Burr, D. C. (2014). Impairment of auditory spatial localization in congenitally blind human subjects,Brain, Pt 1 (137), 288-293. PDF

Several studies have demonstrated enhanced auditory processing in the blind, suggesting that they compensate their visual impairment in part with greater sensitivity of the other senses. However, several physiological studies show that early visual deprivation can impact negatively on auditory spatial localization. Here we report for the first time severely impaired auditory localization in the congenitally blind: thresholds for spatially bisecting three consecutive, spatially-distributed sound sources were seriously compromised, on average 4.2-fold typical thresholds, and half performing at random. In agreement with previous studies, these subjects showed no deficits on simpler auditory spatial tasks or with auditory temporal bisection, suggesting that the encoding of Euclidean auditory relationships is specifically compromised in the congenitally blind. It points to the importance of visual experience in the construction and calibration of auditory spatial maps, with implications for rehabilitation strategies for the congenitally blind.

Aagten-Murphy, D., Cappagli, G. & Burr, D. (2014). Musical training generalises across modalities and reveals efficient and adaptive mechanisms for reproducing temporal intervals,Acta Psychol (Amst), (147), 25-33. PDF

Expert musicians are able to time their actions accurately and consistently during a musical performance. We investigated how musical expertise influences the ability to reproduce auditory intervals and how this generalises across different techniques and sensory modalities. We first compared various reproduction strategies and interval length, to examine the effects in general and to optimise experimental conditions for testing the effect of music, and found that the effects were robust and consistent across different paradigms. Focussing on a 'ready-set-go' paradigm subjects reproduced time intervals drawn from distributions varying in total length (176, 352 or 704 ms) or in the number of discrete intervals within the total length (3, 5, 11 or 21 discrete intervals). Overall, Musicians performed more veridical than Non-Musicians, and all subjects reproduced auditory-defined intervals more accurately than visually-defined intervals. However, Non-Musicians, particularly with visual stimuli, consistently exhibited a substantial and systematic regression towards the mean interval. When subjects judged intervals from distributions of longer total length they tended to regress more towards the mean, while the ability to discriminate between discrete intervals within the distribution had little influence on subject error. These results are consistent with a Bayesian model that minimizes reproduction errors by incorporating a central tendency prior weighted by the subject's own temporal precision relative to the current distribution of intervals. Finally a strong correlation was observed between all durations of formal musical training and total reproduction errors in both modalities (accounting for 30% of the variance). Taken together these results demonstrate that formal musical training improves temporal reproduction, and that this improvement transfers from audition to vision. They further demonstrate the flexibility of sensorimotor mechanisms in adapting to different task conditions to minimise temporal estimation errors.

Zimmermann, E., Morrone, M. C. & Burr, D. C. (2014). The visual component to saccadic compression,J Vis, 12 (14), PDF

Visual objects presented around the time of saccadic eye movements are strongly mislocalized towards the saccadic target, a phenomenon known as "saccadic compression." Here we show that perisaccadic compression is modulated by the presence of a visual saccadic target. When subjects saccaded to the center of the screen with no visible target, perisaccadic localization was more veridical than when tested with a target. Presenting a saccadic target sometime before saccade initiation was sufficient to induce mislocalization. When we systematically varied the onset of the saccade target, we found that it had to be presented around 100 ms before saccade execution to cause strong mislocalization: saccadic targets presented after this time caused progressively less mislocalization. When subjects made a saccade to screen center with a reference object placed at various positions, mislocalization was focused towards the position of the reference object. The results suggest that saccadic compression is a signature of a mechanism attempting to match objects seen before the saccade with those seen after.

Arrighi, R., Togoli, I. & Burr, D. C. (2014). A generalized sense of number, Proc R Soc B (2014) PDF

Much evidence has accumulated to suggest that many animals, including young human infants, possess an abstract sense of approximate quantity, a number sense. Most research has concentrated on apparent numerosity of spatial arrays of dots or other objects, but a truly abstract sense of number should be capable of encoding the numerosity of any set of discrete elements, however displayed and in whatever sensory modality. Here, we use the psychophysical technique ofadaptation to study the sense of number for serially presented items. We show that numerosity of both auditory and visual sequences is greatly affected by prior adaptation to slow or rapid sequences of events. The adaptation to visual stimuli was spatially selective (in external, not retinal coordinates), pointing to a sensory rather than cognitive process. However, adaptation generalized across modalities, from auditory to visual and vice versa. Adaptation also generalized across formats: adapting to sequential streams of flashes affected the perceived numerosity of spatial arrays. All these results point to a perceptual system that transcends vision and audition to encode an abstract sense of number in space and in time.

Burr, D. & Cicchini, G. M. (2014). Vision: efficient adaptive coding,Curr Biol, 22 (24), R1096-1098. PDF

Recent studies show that perception is driven not only by the stimuli currently impinging on our senses, but also by the immediate past history. The influence of recent perceptual history on the present reflects the action of efficient mechanisms that exploit temporal redundancies in natural scenes.

Vercillo, T., Burr, D., Sandini, G. & Gori, M. (2014). Children do not recalibrate motor-sensory temporal order after exposure to delayed sensory feedback,Dev Sci, PDF

Prolonged adaptation to delayed sensory feedback to a simple motor act (such as pressing a key) causes recalibration of sensory-motor synchronization, so instantaneous feedback appears to precede the motor act that caused it (Stetson, Cui, Montague & Eagleman, 2006). We investigated whether similar recalibration occurs in school-age children. Although plasticity may be expected to be even greater in children than in adults, we found no evidence of recalibration in children aged 8-11 years. Subjects adapted to delayed feedback for 100 trials, intermittently pressing a key that caused a tone to sound after a 200 ms delay. During the test phase, subjects responded to a visual cue by pressing a key, which triggered a tone to be played at variable intervals before or after the keypress. Subjects judged whether the tone preceded or followed the keypress, yielding psychometric functions estimating the delay when they perceived the tone to be synchronous with the action. The psychometric functions also gave an estimate of the precision of the temporal order judgment. In agreement with previous studies, adaptation caused a shift in perceived synchrony in adults, so the keypress appeared to trail behind the auditory feedback, implying sensory-motor recalibration. However, school children of 8 to 11 years showed no measureable adaptation of perceived simultaneity, even after adaptation with 500 ms lags. Importantly, precision in the simultaneity task also improved with age, and this developmental trend correlated strongly with the magnitude of recalibration. This suggests that lack of recalibration of sensory-motor simultaneity after adaptation in school-age children is related to their poor precision in temporal order judgments. To test this idea we measured recalibration in adult subjects with auditory noise added to the stimuli (which hampered temporal precision). Under these conditions, recalibration was greatly reduced, with the magnitude of recalibration strongly correlating with temporal precision.

Binda, P., Pereverzeva, M. & Murray, S. O. (2014). Pupil size reflects the focus of feature-based attention,Journal of Neurophysiology, 12 (112), 3046-3052. PDF

We measured pupil size in adult human subjects while they selectively attended to one of two surfaces, bright and dark, defined by coherently moving dots. The two surfaces were presented at the same location; therefore, subjects could select the cued surface only on the basis of its features. With no luminance change in the stimulus, we find that pupil size was smaller when the bright surface was attended and larger when the dark surface was attended: an effect of feature-based (or surface-based) attention. With the same surfaces at nonoverlapping locations, we find a similar effect of spatial attention. The pupil size modulation cannot be accounted for by differences in eye position and by other variables known to affect pupil size such as task difficulty, accommodation, or the mere anticipation (imagery) of bright/dark stimuli. We conclude that pupil size reflects not just luminance or cognitive state, but the interaction between the two: it reflects which luminance level in the visual scene is relevant for the task at hand.



2013 (back to top)

Binda, P., Pereverzeva, M. & Murray, S. O. (2013). Attention to Bright Surfaces Enhances the Pupillary Light Reflex,Journal of Neuroscience, 5 (33), 2199-2204. PDF

One longstanding question is how early in the visual system attention exerts its influence. Here we show that an effect of attention can be measured at the earliest possible stage of visual information processing, as a change in the optics of the eye. We tested human subjects and found that covertly attending to bright surfaces results in an enhanced pupillary light reflex (PLR)-the pupillary constriction that occurs in response to light increments. The PLR optimizes the optical quality of the retinal image across illumination conditions, increasing sensitivity by modulating retinal illumination, and improving acuity by reducing spherical aberrations. The attentional modulation of the PLR that we describe constitutes a new mechanism through which vision is affected by attention; we discuss three alternatives for the neural substrates of this effect, including the possibility that attention might act indirectly, via its well established effects in early visual cortex.

Cicchini, G. M., Binda, P., Burr, D. C. & Morrone, M. C. (2013). Transient spatiotopic integration across saccadic eye movements mediates visual stability,J Neurophysiol, 4 (109), 1117-1125. PDF

Eye movements pose major problems to the visual system, because each new saccade changes the mapping of external objects on the retina. It is known that stimuli briefly presented around the time of saccades are systematically mislocalized, whereas continuously visible objects are perceived as spatially stable even when they undergo large transsaccadic displacements. In this study we investigated the relationship between these two phenomena and measured how human subjects perceive the position of pairs of bars briefly displayed around the time of large horizontal saccades. We show that they interact strongly, with the perisaccadic bar being drawn toward the other, dramatically altering the pattern of perisaccadic mislocalization. The interaction field extends over a wide range (200 ms and 20 degrees ) and is oriented along the retinotopic trajectory of the saccade-induced motion, suggesting a mechanism that integrates pre- and postsaccadic stimuli at different retinal locations but similar external positions. We show how transient changes in spatial integration mechanisms, which are consistent with the present psychophysical results and with the properties of "remapping cells" reported in the literature, can create transient craniotopy by merging the distinct retinal images of the pre- and postsaccadic fixations to signal a single stable object.

Scocchia, L. , Cicchini, G.M. & Triesch, J. (2013). What's "up"? Working memory contents can bias orientation processing, Vision Res, (76), 46-55. PDF

We explored the interaction between the processing of a low-level visual feature such as orientation and the contents of working memory (WM). In a first experiment, participants memorized the orientation of a Gabor patch and performed two subsequent orientation discriminations during the retention interval. The WM stimulus exerted a consistent repulsive effect on the discrimination judgments: participants were more likely to report that the discrimination stimulus was rotated clockwise compared to the oblique after being presented with a stimulus that was tilted anti-clockwise from the oblique. A control condition where participants attended to the Gabor patch but did not memorize it, showed a much reduced effect. The repulsive effect was stable across the two discriminations in the memory condition, but not in the control condition, where it decayed at the second discrimination. In a second experiment, we showed that the greater interference observed in the WM condition cannot be explained by a difference in cognitive demands between the WM and the control condition. We conclude that WM contents can bias perception: the effect of WM interference is of a visual nature, can last over delays of several seconds and is not disrupted by the processing of intervening visual stimuli during the retention period.

Binda, P., Pereverzeva, M. & Murray, S. O. (2013). Attention to bright surfaces enhances the pupillary light reflex,J Neurosci, 5 (33), 2199-2204. PDF

One longstanding question is how early in the visual system attention exerts its influence. Here we show that an effect of attention can be measured at the earliest possible stage of visual information processing, as a change in the optics of the eye. We tested human subjects and found that covertly attending to bright surfaces results in an enhanced pupillary light reflex (PLR)-the pupillary constriction that occurs in response to light increments. The PLR optimizes the optical quality of the retinal image across illumination conditions, increasing sensitivity by modulating retinal illumination, and improving acuity by reducing spherical aberrations. The attentional modulation of the PLR that we describe constitutes a new mechanism through which vision is affected by attention; we discuss three alternatives for the neural substrates of this effect, including the possibility that attention might act indirectly, via its well established effects in early visual cortex.

Tinelli, F., Gamucci, A., Battini, R. & Cioni, G. (2013). Congenital nystagmus in two infants born from mothers exposed to methadone during pregnancy,Ital J Pediatr, 1 (39), 40. PDF

BACKGROUND: Methadone is commonly prescribed as a substitute for illicit opioids. Use of methadone during pregnancy is associated with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), reduced head circumference as well as a slight increase in neonatal mortality and morbidity. Less is known about the effects of methadone on the visual system.Cases: We report two Italian cases of nystagmus in infants born from mothers exposed to methadone during pregnancy. Ophthalmic or central disorders were excluded as a cause of nystagmus in both infants. The first case was followed at 3, 6 and 12 months while the second one was evaluated at 5 and 8 months. Both infants had normal neurological and cognitive development. Their first evaluation revealed different characteristics but both showed progressive improvement in ocular disorder, persistence of pendular horizontal nystagmus and nearly normal visual acuity. CONCLUSION: This report, the first description of Italian cases of nystagmus related to use of methadone during pregnancy, underlies the importance of a careful investigation of drug use in pregnancy in cases of unexplained congenital nystagmus.

Knoll, J., Morrone, M. C. & Bremmer, F. (2013). Spatio-temporal topography of saccadic overestimation of time,Vision Res, (83C), 56-65. PDF

Rapid eye movements (saccades) induce visual misperceptions. A number of studies in recent years have investigated the spatio-temporal profiles of effects like saccadic suppression or perisaccadic mislocalization and revealed substantial functional similarities. Saccade induced chronostasis describes the subjective overestimation of stimulus duration when the stimulus onset falls within a saccade. In this study we aimed to functionally characterize saccade induced chronostasis in greater detail. Specifically we tested if chronostasis is influenced by or functionally related to saccadic suppression. In a first set of experiments, we measured the perceived duration of visual stimuli presented at different spatial positions as a function of presentation time relative to the saccade. We further compared perceived duration during saccades for isoluminant and luminant stimuli. Finally, we investigated whether or not saccade induced chronostasis is dependent on the execution of a saccade itself. We show that chronostasis occurs across the visual field with a clear spatio-temporal tuning. Furthermore, we report chronostasis during simulated saccades, indicating that spurious retinal motion induced by the saccade is a prime origin of the phenomenon.

Zimmermann, E., Morrone, M. C., Fink, G. R. & Burr, D. (2013). Spatiotopic neural representations develop slowly across saccades,Curr Biol, 5 (23), R193-194. PDF

One of the long-standing unsolved mysteries of visual neuroscience is how the world remains apparently stable in the face of continuous movements of eyes, head and body. Many factors seem to contribute to this stability, including rapid updating mechanisms that temporarily remap the visual input to compensate for the impending saccade [1]. However, there is also a growing body of evidence pointing to more long-lasting spatiotopic neural representations, which remain solid in external rather than retinal coordinates [2-6]. In this study, we show that these spatiotopic representations take hundreds of milliseconds to build up robustly.

Lunghi, C. & Alais, D. (2013). Touch Interacts with Vision during Binocular Rivalry with a Tight Orientation Tuning,PLoS One, 3 (8), e58754. PDF

Multisensory integration is a common feature of the mammalian brain that allows it to deal more efficiently with the ambiguity of sensory input by combining complementary signals from several sensory sources. Growing evidence suggests that multisensory interactions can occur as early as primary sensory cortices. Here we present incompatible visual signals (orthogonal gratings) to each eye to create visual competition between monocular inputs in primary visual cortex where binocular combination would normally take place. The incompatibility prevents binocular fusion and triggers an ambiguous perceptual response in which the two images are perceived one at a time in an irregular alternation. One key function of multisensory integration is to minimize perceptual ambiguity by exploiting cross-sensory congruence. We show that a haptic signal matching one of the visual alternatives helps disambiguate visual perception during binocular rivalry by both prolonging the dominance period of the congruent visual stimulus and by shortening its suppression period. Importantly, this interaction is strictly tuned for orientation, with a mismatch as small as 7.5 degrees between visual and haptic orientations sufficient to annul the interaction. These results indicate important conclusions: first, that vision and touch interact at early levels of visual processing where interocular conflicts are first detected and orientation tunings are narrow, and second, that haptic input can influence visual signals outside of visual awareness, bringing a stimulus made invisible by binocular rivalry suppression back to awareness sooner than would occur without congruent haptic input.

Ricci, D. & Tinelli, F. (2013). Compromised approximate number system acuity in school-aged children born extremely preterm,Dev Med Child Neurol, PDF

Lunghi, C., Burr, D. C. & Morrone, M. C. (2013). Long-term effects of monocular deprivation revealed with binocular rivalry gratings modulated in luminance and in color,J Vis, 6 (13), PDF

During development, within a specific temporal window called the critical period, the mammalian visual cortex is highly plastic and literally shaped by visual experience; to what extent this extraordinary plasticity is retained in the adult brain is still a debated issue. We tested the residual plastic potential of the adult visual cortex for both achromatic and chromatic vision by measuring binocular rivalry in adult humans following 150 minutes of monocular patching. Paradoxically, monocular deprivation resulted in lengthening of the mean phase duration of both luminance-modulated and equiluminant stimuli for the deprived eye and complementary shortening of nondeprived phase durations, suggesting an initial homeostatic compensation for the lack of information following monocular deprivation. When equiluminant gratings were tested, the effect was measurable for at least 180 minutes after reexposure to binocular vision, compared with 90 minutes for achromatic gratings. Our results suggest that chromatic vision shows a high degree of plasticity, retaining the effect for a duration (180 minutes) longer than that of the deprivation period (150 minutes) and twice as long as that found with achromatic gratings. The results are in line with evidence showing a higher vulnerability of the P pathway to the effects of visual deprivation during development and a slower development of chromatic vision in humans.

Burr, D. Motion Perception: Human Psychophysics. In J. S. Werner & L. M. Chalupa (Eds.), The New Visual Neuroscience: MIT Press. PDF

Turi, M. & Burr, D. (2013). The "motion silencing" illusion results from global motion and crowding,J Vis, 5 (13), PDF

Suchow and Alvarez (2011) recently devised a striking illusion, where objects changing in color, luminance, size, or shape appear to stop changing when they move. They refer to the illusion as "motion silencing of awareness to visual change." Here we present evidence that the illusion results from two perceptual processes: global motion and crowding. We adapted Suchow and Alvarez's stimulus to three concentric rings of dots, a central ring of "target dots" flanked on either side by similarly moving flanker dots. Subjects had to identify in which of two presentations the target dots were continuously changing (sinusoidally) in size, as distinct from the other interval in which size was constant. The results show: (a) Motion silencing depends on target speed, with a threshold around 0.2 rotations per second (corresponding to about 10 degrees /s linear motion). (b) Silencing depends on both target-flanker spacing and eccentricity, with critical spacing about half eccentricity, consistent with Bouma's law. (c) The critical spacing was independent of stimulus size, again consistent with Bouma's law. (d) Critical spacing depended strongly on contrast polarity. All results imply that the "motion silencing" illusion may result from crowding.

Binda, P., Pereverzeva, M. & Murray, S. O. (2013). Pupil constrictions to photographs of the sun,Journal of Vision, 6 (13), PDF

The pupil constricts in response to light increments and dilates with light decrements. Here we show that a picture of the sun, introducing a small overall decrease in light level across the field of view, results in a pupillary constriction. Thus, the pictorial representation of a high-luminance object (the sun) can override the normal pupillary dilation elicited by a light decrement. In a series of experiments that control for a variety of factors known to modulate pupil size, we show that the effect (a) does not depend on the retinal position of the images and (b) is modulated by attention. It has long been known that cognitive factors can affect pupil diameter by producing pupillary dilations. Our results indicate that high-level visual analysis (beyond the simple subcortical system mediating the pupillary response to light) can also induce pupillary constriction, with an effect size of about 0.1 mm.

Orchard-Mills, E., Leung, J., Burr, D., Morrone, M. C., Wufong, E., Carlile, S., et al. (2013). A mechanism for detecting coincidence of auditory and visual spatial signals,Multisens Res, 4 (26), 333-345. PDF

Information about the world is captured by our separate senses, and must be integrated to yield a unified representation. This raises the issue of which signals should be integrated and which should remain separate, as inappropriate integration will lead to misrepresentation and distortions. One strong cue suggesting that separate signals arise from a single source is coincidence, in space and in time. We measured increment thresholds for discriminating spatial intervals defined by pairs of simultaneously presented targets, one flash and one auditory sound, for various separations. We report a 'dipper function', in which thresholds follow a 'U-shaped' curve, with thresholds initially decreasing with spatial interval, and then increasing for larger separations. The presence of a dip in the audiovisual increment-discrimination function is evidence that the auditory and visual signals both input to a common mechanism encoding spatial separation, and a simple filter model with a sigmoidal transduction function simulated the results well. The function of an audiovisual spatial filter may be to detect coincidence, a fundamental cue guiding whether to integrate or segregate.

De Rose, P., Albamonte, E., Lagana, V., Sivo, S., Pisoni, S., Gallini, F., et al. (2013). Perceptual-motor abilities in pre-school preterm children,Early Hum Dev, PDF

BACKGROUND: Several studies report a high percentage of premature infants presenting perceptual motor difficulties at school age. The new version of the Movement Assessment Battery for Children allows the assessment of perceptual-motor abilities in children from the age of 3years. AIMS: To evaluate early perceptual-motor abilities in prematurely born children below the age of 4years. STUDY DESIGN: The Movement Assessment Battery for Children 2nd edition was administered to 105 low-risk prematurely born children (<32weeks gestation) and in a control group of 105 term-born children matched for age and sex. All children were assessed between the age of 3years and 3years-11months. RESULTS: 63 children (60%) had total scores above the 15th percentile, 15 (14.3%) had scores between the 5th and the 15th percentile, and 13 (12.4%) below the 5th percentile. The remaining 14 children (13.3%) refused to perform or to complete the test. The difference between preterm and control group was significant for total scores, Manual Dexterity and Aiming and Catching scores. In the preterm group there was a correlation between age at testing, total scores and Aiming and Catching subscores. The Movement ABC-2 subscores were significantly lower in children born below 29weeks. CONCLUSION: Perceptual-motor difficulties can already be detected on the assessment performed before the age of 4years. Prematurely born children assessed between 3years and 3years-3months appeared to have more difficulties in performing the test than the older ones or their age matched term-born peers. These findings support the possibility of a delayed maturation in the younger age group.

Castaldi, E., Frijia, F., Montanaro, D., Tosetti, M. & Morrone, M. C. (2013). BOLD human responses to chromatic spatial features,Eur J Neurosci, 2 (38), 2290-2299. PDF

Animal physiological and human psychophysical studies suggest that an early step in visual processing involves the detection and identification of features such as lines and edges, by neural mechanisms with even- and odd-symmetric receptive fields. Functional imaging studies also demonstrate mechanisms with even- and odd-receptive fields in early visual areas, in response to luminance-modulated stimuli. In this study we measured fMRI BOLD responses to 2-D stimuli composed of only even or only odd symmetric features, and to an amplitude-matched random noise control, modulated in red-green equiluminant colour contrast. All these stimuli had identical power but different phase spectra, either highly congruent (even or odd symmetry stimuli) or random (noise). At equiluminance, V1 BOLD activity showed no preference between congruent- and random-phase stimuli, as well as no preference between even and odd symmetric stimuli. Areas higher in the visual hierarchy, both along the dorsal pathway (caudal part of the intraparietal sulcus, dorsal LO and V3A) and the ventral pathway (V4), responded preferentially to odd symmetry over even symmetry stimuli, and to congruent over random phase stimuli. Interestingly, V1 showed an equal increase in BOLD activity at each alternation between stimuli of different symmetry, suggesting the existence of specialised mechanisms for the detection of edges and lines such as even- and odd-chromatic receptive fields. Overall the results indicate a high selectivity of colour-selective neurons to spatial phase along both the dorsal and the ventral pathways in humans.

Burr, D., Rocca, E. D. & Morrone, M. C. (2013). Contextual effects in interval-duration judgements in vision, audition and touch,Exp Brain Res, PDF

We examined the effect of temporal context on discrimination of intervals marked by auditory, visual and tactile stimuli. Subjects were asked to compare the duration of the interval immediately preceded by an irrelevant "distractor" stimulus with an interval with no distractor. For short interval durations, the presence of the distractor affected greatly the apparent duration of the test stimulus: short distractors caused the test interval to appear shorter and vice versa. For very short reference durations (< o =100 ms), the contextual effects were large, changing perceived duration by up to a factor of two. The effect of distractors reduced steadily for longer reference durations, to zero effect for durations greater than 500 ms. We found similar results for intervals defined by visual flashes, auditory tones and brief finger vibrations, all falling to zero effect at 500 ms. Under appropriate conditions, there were strong cross-modal interactions, particularly from audition to vision. We also measured the Weber fractions for duration discrimination and showed that under the conditions of this experiment, Weber fractions decreased steadily with duration, following a square-root law, similarly for all three modalities. The magnitude of the effect of the distractors on apparent duration correlated well with Weber fraction, showing that when duration discrimination was relatively more precise, the context dependency was less. The results were well fit by a simple Bayesian model combining noisy estimates of duration with the action of a resonance-like mechanism that tended to regularize the sound sequence intervals.

Burr, D., Della Rocca, E. & Morrone, M. C. (2013). Erratum to: Contextual effects in interval-duration judgements in vision, audition and touch,Exp Brain Res, PDF

Lunghi, C. & Morrone, M. C. (2013). Early interaction between vision and touch during binocular rivalry,Multisens Res, 3 (26), 291-306. PDF

Multisensory integration is known to occur at high neural levels, but there is also growing evidence that cross-modal signals can be integrated at the first stages of sensory processing. We investigated whether touch specifically affected vision during binocular rivalry, a particular type of visual bistability that engages neural competition in early visual cortices. We found that tactile signals interact with visual signals outside of awareness, when the visual stimulus congruent with the tactile one is perceptually suppressed during binocular rivalry and when the interaction is strictly tuned for matched visuo-tactile spatial frequencies. We also found that voluntary action does not play a leading role in mediating the effect, since the interaction was observed also when tactile stimulation was passively delivered to the finger. However, simultaneous presentation of visual and tactile stimuli is necessary to elicit the interaction, and an asynchronous priming touch stimulus is not affecting the onset of rivalry. These results point to a very early cross-modal interaction site, probably V1. By showing that spatial proximity between visual and tactile stimuli is a necessary condition for the interaction, we also suggest that the two sensory spatial maps are aligned according to retinotopic coordinates, corroborating the hypothesis of a very early interaction between visual and tactile signals during binocular rivalry.

Mikellidou, K. & Thompson, P. (2013). The vertical-horizontal illusion: assessing the contributions of anisotropy, abutting, and crossing to the misperception of simple line stimuli,J Vis, 8 (13), PDF

Mamassian and de Montalembert (2010) have proposed a simple model of the vertical-horizontal illusion. This model identified two components, an anisotropy which results in horizontal lines being perceived approximately 6% shorter than verticals and a bisection component which results in a bisected line being perceived approximately 16% shorter. We have shown that this bisection component confounds two effects: One when lines cross one another and a second effect when one line abuts another. We propose an extension to the Mamassian-de Montalembert model in which their bisection component is replaced by separate crossing and abutting components.

Anobile, G., Stievano, P. & Burr, D. C. (2013). Visual sustained attention and numerosity sensitivity correlate with math achievement in children,J Exp Child Psychol, 2 (116), 380-391. PDF

In this study, we investigated in school-age children the relationship among mathematical performance, the perception of numerosity (discrimination and mapping to number line), and sustained visual attention. The results (on 68 children between 8 and 11years of age) show that attention and numerosity perception predict math scores but not reading performance. Even after controlling for several variables, including age, gender, nonverbal IQ, and reading accuracy, attention remained correlated with math skills and numerosity discrimination. These findings support previous reports showing the interrelationship between visual attention and both numerosity perception and math performance. It also suggests that attentional deficits may be implicated in disturbances such as developmental dyscalculia.

Pooresmaeili, A., Arrighi, R., Biagi, L. & Morrone, M. C. (2013). Blood oxygen level-dependent activation of the primary visual cortex predicts size adaptation illusion,J Neurosci, 40 (33), 15999-16008. PDF

In natural scenes, objects rarely occur in isolation but appear within a spatiotemporal context. Here, we show that the perceived size of a stimulus is significantly affected by the context of the scene: brief previous presentation of larger or smaller adapting stimuli at the same region of space changes the perceived size of a test stimulus, with larger adapting stimuli causing the test to appear smaller than veridical and vice versa. In a human fMRI study, we measured the blood oxygen level-dependent activation (BOLD) responses of the primary visual cortex (V1) to the contours of large-diameter stimuli and found that activation closely matched the perceptual rather than the retinal stimulus size: the activated area of V1 increased or decreased, depending on the size of the preceding stimulus. A model based on local inhibitory V1 mechanisms simulated the inward or outward shifts of the stimulus contours and hence the perceptual effects. Our findings suggest that area V1 is actively involved in reshaping our perception to match the short-term statistics of the visual scene.


Cicchini, G.M. and Spillmann, L. (2013). Neon color spreading in dynamic displays: Temporal factors, Journal of Vision (13):12,2. PDF

When a red star is placed in the middle of an Ehrenstein figure so as to be collinear with the surrounding black rays, a reddish veil is perceived to fill the white center. This is called neon color spreading. To better understand the processes that give rise to this phenomenon, we studied the temporal properties of the effect. Specifically, we presented a “sustained” black Ehrenstein figure (rays) for 600 ms and a “transient” red star for 48 ms, or the converse pattern, at various stimulus onset asynchronies (?100–700 ms) and asked subjects to compare the strength of the neon color in the test stimulus to that of a reference pattern in which the transient star had an onset asynchrony of 300 ms. Additional exposure durations of 24 and 96 ms were used for each transient stimulus in order to study the effect of temporal integration. Simultaneity of the on- and off-transients of the star and the Ehrenstein rays were found to optimize neon color spreading, especially when both stimuli terminated together. Longer exposure durations of the transient stimulus up to 96 ms further improved the effect. Neon color spreading was much reduced when the transient stimulus was presented soon after the beginning of the sustained stimulus, with a gradual build-up towards the end. These results emphasize the importance of stimulus onset asynchrony (SOA) and stimulus termination asynchrony (STA) for the perception of neon color spreading.

Poletti, M., Burr, DC. & Rucci, M. (2013).Optimal Multimodal Integration in Spatial Localization,J Neurosci 33(35):14259-14268. PDF

Saccadic eye movements facilitate rapid and efficient exploration of visual scenes, but also pose serious challenges to establishing reliable spatial representations. This process presumably depends on extraretinal information about eye position, but it is still unclear whether afferent or efferent signals are implicated and how these signals are combined with the visual input. Using a novel gaze-contingent search paradigm with highly controlled retinal stimulation, we examined the performance of human observers in locating a previously fixated target after a variable number of saccades, a task that generates contrasting predictions for different updating mechanisms.Weshow that while localization accuracy is unaffected by saccades, localization precision deteriorates nonlinearly, revealing a statistically optimal combination of retinal and extraretinal signals. These results provide direct evidence for optimal multimodal integration in the updating of spatial representations and elucidate the contributions of corollary discharge signals and eye proprioception.

Zimmerman, E., Morrone,M.C. & Burr, DC.. (2013).Spatial position information accumulates steadily over time, J Neurosci 33(47):18396-18401. PDF

One of the more enduring mysteries of neuroscience is how the visual system constructs robust maps of the world that remain stable in the face of frequent eye-movements. Here we show that encoding the position of objects in external space is a relatively slow process, building up over hundreds of milliseconds. We display targets to which human subjects saccade after a variable preview duration. As they saccade, the target is displaced leftwards or rightwards, and subjects report the displacement direction. When subjects saccade to targets without delay, sensitivity is poor: but if the target is viewed for 300-500 ms before saccading, sensitivity is similar to that during fixation with a strong visual mask to dampen transients. These results suggest that the poor displacement thresholds usually observed in the “saccadic suppression of displacement” paradigm do not reflect the action of special mechanisms conferring saccadic stability, but the fact that the target has had insufficient time to be encoded in memory. Under more natural conditions, trans-saccadic displacement detection is as good as in fixation, when the displacement transients are masked.

Pooresmaeili, A., Cicchini, G.M., Morrone, M. C. & Burr, D.C. (2013). Spatiotemporal filtering and motion illusions, Journal of Vision, (13)10-21. PDF

Our group has long championed the idea that perceptual processing of information can be anchored in a dynamic coordinate system that need not correspond to the instantaneous retinal representation that need not correspond to the istantaneus retinal representation...


Sani, I., Santandrea, E., Golzar, A., Morrone, M. C. & Chelazzi, L. (2013). Selective tuning for contrast in macaque area V4,J Neurosci, 47 (33), 18583-18596. PDF

Visually responsive neurons typically exhibit a monotonic-saturating increase of firing with luminance contrast of the stimulus and are able to adapt to the current spatiotemporal context by shifting their selectivity, therefore being perfectly suited for optimal contrast encoding and discrimination. Here we report the first evidence of the existence of neurons showing selective tuning for contrast in area V4d of the behaving macaque (Macaca mulatta), i.e., narrow bandpass filter neurons with peak activity encompassing the whole range of visible contrasts and pronounced attenuation at contrasts higher than the peak. Crucially, we found that contrast tuning emerges after a considerable delay from stimulus onset, likely reflecting the contribution of inhibitory mechanisms. Selective tuning for luminance contrast might support multiple functions, including contrast identification and the attentive selection of low contrast stimuli.

van der Groen, O., van der Burg, E., Lunghi, C. & Alais, D. (2013). Touch influences visual perception with a tight orientation-tuning,PLoS One, 11 (8), e79558. PDF

Stimuli from different sensory modalities are thought to be processed initially in distinct unisensory brain areas prior to convergence in multisensory areas. However, signals in one modality can influence the processing of signals from other modalities and recent studies suggest this cross-modal influence may occur early on, even in 'unisensory' areas. Some recent psychophysical studies have shown specific cross-modal effects between touch and vision during binocular rivalry, but these cannot completely rule out a response bias. To test for genuine cross-modal integration of haptic and visual signals, we investigated whether congruent haptic input could influence visual contrast sensitivity compared to incongruent haptic input in three psychophysical experiments using a two-interval, two-alternative forced-choice method to eliminate response bias. The initial experiment demonstrated that contrast thresholds for a visual grating were lower when exploring a haptic grating that shared the same orientation compared to an orthogonal orientation. Two subsequent experiments mapped the orientation and spatial frequency tunings for the congruent haptic facilitation of vision, finding a clear orientation tuning effect but not a spatial frequency tuning. In addition to an increased contrast sensitivity for iso-oriented visual-haptic gratings, we found a significant loss of sensitivity for orthogonally oriented visual-haptic gratings. We conclude that the tactile influence on vision is a result of a tactile input to orientation-tuned visual areas.

2012 (back to top)

Anobile, G., Cicchini, G. M. & Burr, D. C. (2012). Linear mapping of numbers onto space requires attention,Cognition, 3 (122), 454-459. PDF

Mapping of number onto space is fundamental to mathematics and measurement. Previous research suggests that while typical adults with mathematical schooling map numbers veridically onto a linear scale, pre-school children and adults without formal mathematics training, as well as individuals with dyscalculia, show strong compressive, logarithmic-like non-linearities when mapping both symbolic and non-symbolic numbers onto the numberline. Here we show that the use of the linear scale is dependent on attentional resources. We asked typical adults to position clouds of dots on a numberline of various lengths. In agreement with previous research, they did so veridically under normal conditions, but when asked to perform a concurrent attentionally-demanding conjunction task, the mapping followed a compressive, non-linear function. We model the non-linearity both by the commonly assumed logarithmic transform, and also with a Bayesian model of central tendency. These results suggest that veridical representation numerosity requires attentional mechanisms.

Pooresmaeili, A., Cicchini, G. M., Morrone, M. C. & Burr, D. (2012). "Non-retinotopic processing" in Ternus motion displays modeled by spatiotemporal filters,J Vis, 1 (12), PDF

Recently, M. Boi, H. Ogmen, J. Krummenacher, T. U. Otto, & M. H. Herzog (2009) reported a fascinating visual effect, where the direction of apparent motion was disambiguated by cues along the path of apparent motion, the Ternus-Pikler group motion, even though no actual movement occurs in this stimulus. They referred to their study as a "litmus test" to distinguish "non-retinotopic" (motion-based) from "retinotopic" (retina-based) image processing. We adapted the test to one with simple grating stimuli that could be more readily modeled and replicated their psychophysical results quantitatively with this stimulus. We then modeled our experiments in 3D (x, y, t) Fourier space and demonstrated that the observed perceptual effects are readily accounted for by integration of information within a detector that is oriented in space and time, in a similar way to previous explanations of other motion illusions. This demonstration brings the study of Boi et al. into the more general context of perception of moving objects.

Cicchini, G. M., Arrighi, R., Cecchetti, L., Giusti M. & Burr, D. C. (2012). Optimal Encoding of Interval Timing in Expert Percussionists, J Neurosci, 3 (32), 1056-1060. PDF

We measured temporal reproduction in human subjects with various levels of musical expertise: expert drummers, string musicians, and non-musicians. While duration reproduction of the non-percussionists showed a characteristic central tendency or regression to the mean, drummers responded veridically. Furthermore, when the stimuli were auditory tones rather than flashes, all subjects responded veridically. The behavior of all three groups in both modalities is well explained by a Bayesian model that seeks to minimize reproduction errors by incorporating a central tendency prior, a probability density function centered at the mean duration of the sample. We measured separately temporal precision thresholds with a bisection task; thresholds were twice as low in drummers as in the other two groups. These estimates of temporal precision, together with an adaptable Bayesian prior, predict well the reproduction results and the central tendency strategy under all conditions and for all subject groups. These results highlight the efficiency and flexibility of sensorimotor mechanisms estimating temporal duration.

Binda, P., Morrone, M. C. & Bremmer, F. (2012). Saccadic compression of symbolic numerical magnitude,PLoS One, 11 (7), e49587. PDF

Stimuli flashed briefly around the time of saccadic eye movements are subject to complex distortions: compression of space and time; underestimate of numerosity. Here we show that saccadic distortions extend to abstract quantities, affecting the representation of symbolic numerical magnitude. Subjects consistently underestimated the results of rapidly computed mental additions and subtractions, when the operands were briefly displayed before a saccade. However, the recognition of the number symbols was unimpaired. These results are consistent with the hypothesis of a common, abstract metric encoding magnitude along multiple dimensions. They suggest that a surprising link exists between the preparation of action and the representation of abstract quantities.

Panichi, M., Burr, D., Morrone, M. C. & Baldassi, S. (2012). Spatiotemporal dynamics of perisaccadic remapping in humans revealed by classification images,J Vis, 4 (12), 11. PDF

We actively scan our environment with fast ballistic movements called saccades, which create large and rapid displacements of the image on the retina. At the time of saccades, vision becomes transiently distorted in many ways: Briefly flashed stimuli are displaced in space and in time, and spatial and temporal intervals appear compressed. Here we apply the psychophysical technique of classification images to study the spatiotemporal dynamics of visual mechanisms during saccades. We show that saccades cause gross distortions of the classification images. Before the onset of saccadic eye movements, the positive lobes of the images become enlarged in both space and in time and also shifted in a systematic manner toward the pre-saccadic fixation (in space) and anticipated in time by about 50 ms. The transient reorganization creates a spatiotemporal organization oriented in the direction of saccadic-induced motion at the time of saccades, providing a potential mechanism for integrating stimuli across saccades, facilitating stable and continuous vision in the face of constant eye movements.

Zimmermann, E., Morrone, M. C. & Burr, D. (2012). Visual motion distorts visual and motor space, J Vis, 2 (12), PDF

Mapping of number onto space is fundamental to mathematics and measurement. Previous research suggests that while typical adults with mathematical schooling map numbers veridically onto a linear scale, pre-school children and adults without formal mathematics training, as well as individuals with dyscalculia, show strong compressive, logarithmic-like non-linearities when mapping both symbolic and non-symbolic numbers onto the numberline. Here we show that the use of the linear scale is dependent on attentional resources. We asked typical adults to position clouds of dots on a numberline of various lengths. In agreement with previous research, they did so veridically under normal conditions, but when asked to perform a concurrent attentionally-demanding conjunction task, the mapping followed a compressive, non-linear function. We model the non-linearity both by the commonly assumed logarithmic transform, and also with a Bayesian model of central tendency. These results suggest that veridical representation numerosity requires attentional mechanisms.

Taubert, J., Aagten-Murphy, D. & Parr, L. A. (2012). A comparative study of face processing using scrambled faces,Perception, 4 (41), 460-473. PDF

It is a widespread assumption that all primate species process faces in the same way because the species are closely related and they engage in similar social interactions. However, this approach ignores potentially interesting and informative differences that may exist between species. This paper describes a comparative study of holistic face processing. Twelve subjects (six chimpanzees Pan troglodytes and six rhesus monkeys Macaca mulatta) were trained to discriminate whole faces (faces with features in their canonical position) and feature-scrambled faces in two separate conditions. We found that both species tended to match the global configuration of features over local features, providing strong evidence of global precedence. In addition, we show that both species were better able to generalize from a learned configuration to an entirely novel configuration when they were first trained to match feature-scrambled faces compared to when they were trained with whole faces. This result implies that the subjects were able to access local information easier when facial features were presented in a scrambled configuration and is consistent with a holistic processing hypothesis. Interestingly, these data also suggest that, while holistic processing in chimpanzees is tuned to own-species faces, monkeys have a more general approach towards all faces. Thus, while these data confirm that both chimpanzees and rhesus monkeys process faces holistically, they also indicate that there are differences between the species that warrant further investigation.

Cicchini, G. M. (2012). Perception of duration in the parvocellular system, Front Integr Neurosci 6:14 PDF

Both theoretical and experimental evidence suggests that duration perception is mediated preferentially by the color-blind but high temporally sensitive luminance pathway. In this experiment we tested whether color modulated stimuli and high spatial frequency luminance modulated stimuli, which are known to be relayed mostly by the slow parvocellular system, are able to elicit reliable sense of duration. We show that ramped color modulated stimuli seem to last less than luminance modulated stimuli matched for visibility. The effect is large, about 200 ms and is constant at all durations tested (range 500–1100 ms). However, high spatial frequency luminance stimuli obtain duration matches similar to those of low spatial frequency luminance modulated stimuli. The results at various levels of contrast and temporal smoothing indicate that equiluminant stimuli have higher contrast thresholds to activate the mechanisms which time visual stimuli. Overall the results imply that both the magnocellular and the parvocellular systems access reliably the timing mechanisms with a difference only in the way these are engaged

Turi, M. & Burr, D. (2012). Spatiotopic perceptual maps in humans: evidence from motion adaptation,Proc Biol Sci, 1740 (279), 3091-3097. PDF

How our perceptual experience of the world remains stable and continuous despite the frequent repositioning eye movements remains very much a mystery. One possibility is that our brain actively constructs a spatiotopic representation of the world, which is anchored in external-or at least head-centred-coordinates. In this study, we show that the positional motion aftereffect (the change in apparent position after adaptation to motion) is spatially selective in external rather than retinal coordinates, whereas the classic motion aftereffect (the illusion of motion after prolonged inspection of a moving source) is selective in retinotopic coordinates. The results provide clear evidence for a spatiotopic map in humans: one which can be influenced by image motion.

Anobile, G., Turi, M., Cicchini, G. M. & Burr, D. C. (2012). The effects of cross-sensory attentional demand on subitizing and on mapping number onto space,Vision Res, PDF

Various aspects of numerosity judgments, especially subitizing and the mapping of number onto space, depend strongly on attentional resources. Here we use a dual-task paradigm to investigate the effects of cross-sensory attentional demands on visual subitizing and spatial mapping. The results show that subitizing is strongly dependent on attentional resources, far more so than is estimation of higher numerosities. But unlike many other sensory tasks, visual subitizing is equally affected by concurrent attentionally demanding auditory and tactile tasks as it is by visual tasks, suggesting that subitizing may be amodal. Mapping number onto space was also strongly affected by attention, but only when the dual-task was in the visual modality. The non-linearities in numberline mapping under attentional load are well explained by a Bayesian model of central tendency.

Gori, M., Tinelli, F., Sandini, G., Cioni, G. & Burr, D. (2012). Impaired visual size-discrimination in children with movement disorders,Neuropsychologia, 8 (50), 1838-1843. PDF

Multisensory integration of spatial information occurs late in childhood, at around eight years (Gori, Del Viva, Sandini, & Burr, 2008). For younger children, the haptic system dominates size discrimination and vision dominates orientation discrimination: the dominance may reflect sensory calibration, and could have direct consequences on children born with specific sensory disabilities. Here we measure thresholds for visual discrimination of orientation and size in children with movement disorders of upper limbs. Visual orientation discrimination was very similar to the age-matched typical children, but visual size discrimination thresholds were far worse, in all eight individuals with early-onset movement disorder. This surprising and counterintuitive result is readily explained by the cross-sensory calibration hypothesis: when the haptic sense is unavailable for manipulation, it cannot be readily used to estimate size, and hence to calibrate the visual experience of size: visual discrimination is subsequently impaired. This complements a previous study showing that non-sighted children have reduced acuity for haptic orientation, but not haptic size, discriminations (Gori, Sandini, Martinoli, & Burr, 2010). Together these studies show that when either vision or haptic manipulation is impaired, the impairment also impacts on complementary sensory systems that are calibrated by that one.

 

Pellicano, E. & Burr, D. (2012). When the world becomes 'too real': a Bayesian explanation of autistic perception,Trends Cogn Sci, 10 (16), 504-510. PDF

Perceptual experience is influenced both by incoming sensory information and prior knowledge about the world, a concept recently formalised within Bayesian decision theory. We propose that Bayesian models can be applied to autism - a neurodevelopmental condition with atypicalities in sensation and perception - to pinpoint fundamental differences in perceptual mechanisms. We suggest specifically that attenuated Bayesian priors - 'hypo-priors' - may be responsible for the unique perceptual experience of autistic people, leading to a tendency to perceive the world more accurately rather than modulated by prior experience. In this account, we consider how hypo-priors might explain key features of autism - the broad range of sensory and other non-social atypicalities--in addition to the phenomenological differences in autistic perception.

Tomassini, A., Gori, M., Burr, D., Sandini, G. & Morrone, M. C. (2012). Active movement restores veridical event-timing after tactile adaptation,J Neurophysiol, 8 (108), 2092-2100. PDF

Growing evidence suggests that time in the subsecond range is tightly linked to sensory processing. Event-time can be distorted by sensory adaptation, and many temporal illusions can accompany action execution. In this study, we show that adaptation to tactile motion causes a strong contraction of the apparent duration of tactile stimuli. However, when subjects make a voluntary motor act before judging the duration, it annuls the adaptation-induced temporal distortion, reestablishing veridical event-time. The movement needs to be performed actively by the subject: passive movement of similar magnitude and dynamics has no effect on adaptation, showing that it is the motor commands themselves, rather than reafferent signals from body movement, which reset the adaptation for tactile duration. No other concomitant perceptual changes were reported (such as apparent speed or enhanced temporal discrimination), ruling out a generalized effect of body movement on somatosensory processing. We suggest that active movement resets timing mechanisms in preparation for the new scenario that the movement will cause, eliminating inappropriate biases in perceived time. Our brain seems to utilize the intention-to-move signals to retune its perceptual machinery appropriately, to prepare to extract new temporal information.

Tinelli, T., Cicchini, G.M., Arrighi, R., Tosetti, M., Cioni, G.,  Morrone M. C. (2012). Blindsight in children with congenital and acquired cerebral lesions, Cortex (published online 10 August 2012) PDF

It has been shown that unconscious visual function can survive lesions to optical radiations and/or primary visual cortex (V1), a phenomenon termed “blindsight”. Studies on animal models (cat and monkey) show that the age when the lesion occurs determines the extent of residual visual capacities. Much less is known about the functional and underlying neuronal repercussions of early cortical damage in humans. We measured sensitivity to several visual tasks in four children with congenital unilateral brain lesions that severely affected optic radiations, and in another group of three children with similar lesions, acquired in childhood. In two of the congenital patients, we measured blood oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) activity in response to stimulation of each visual field quadrants. Results show clear evidence of residual unconscious processing of position, orientation and motion of visual stimuli displayed in the scotoma of congenitally lesioned children, but not in the children with acquired lesions. The calcarine cortical BOLD responses were abnormally elicited by stimulation of the ipsilateral visual field and in the scotoma region, demonstrating a profound neuronal reorganization. In conclusion, our data suggest that congenital lesions can trigger massive reorganization of the visual system to alleviate functional effects of early brain insults.

Manning, C., Aagten-Murphy, D. & Pellicano, E. (2012). The development of speed discrimination abilities,Vision Res, (70), 27-33. PDF

The processing of speed is a critical part of a child's visual development, allowing children to track and interact with moving objects. Despite such importance, no study has investigated the developmental trajectory of speed discrimination abilities or precisely when these abilities become adult-like. Here, we measured speed discrimination thresholds in 5-, 7-, 9-, 11-year-olds and adults using random dot stimuli with two different reference speeds (slow: 1.5 deg/s; fast: 6 deg/s). Sensitivity for both reference speeds improved exponentially with age and, at all ages, participants were more sensitive to the faster reference speed. However, sensitivity to slow speeds followed a more protracted developmental trajectory than that for faster speeds. Furthermore, sensitivity to the faster reference speed reached adult-like levels by 11 years, whereas sensitivity to the slower reference speed was not yet adult-like by this age. Different developmental trajectories may reflect distinct systems for processing fast and slow speeds. The reasonably late development of speed processing abilities may be due to inherent limits in the integration of neuronal responses in motion-sensitive areas in early childhood.

Morrone, M. C. M. (2012). Plasticità ed adattabilità della visione,Giornale Italiano di Psicologia, (3), 517-522. PDF

Burr, D. C. & Morrone, M. C. (2012). Constructing stable spatial maps of the world,Perception, 11 (41), 1355-1372. PDF

To interact rapidly and effectively with our environment, our brain needs access to a neural representation—or map—of the spatial layout of the external world. However, the construction of such a map poses major challenges to the visual system, given that the images on our retinae depend on where the eyes are looking, and shift each time we move our eyes, head, and body to explore the world. Much research has been devoted to how the stability is achieved, with the debate often polarized between the utility of spatiotopic maps (that remain solid in external coordinates), as opposed to transiently updated retinotopic maps. Our research suggests that the visual system uses both strategies to maintain stability. f MRI, motion-adaptation, and saccade-adaptation studies demonstrate and characterize spatiotopic neural maps within the dorsal visual stream that remain solid in external rather than retinal coordinates. However, the construction of these maps takes time (up to 500 ms) and attentional resources. To solve the immediate problems created by individual saccades, we postulate the existence of a separate system to bridge each saccade with neural units that are ‘transiently craniotopic’. These units prepare for the effects of saccades with a shift of their receptive fields before the saccade starts, then relaxing back into their standard position during the saccade, compensating for its action. Psychophysical studies investigating localization of stimuli flashed briefly around the time of saccades provide strong support for these neural mechanisms, and show quantitatively how they integrate information across saccades. This transient system cooperates with the spatiotopic mechanism to provide a useful map to guide interactions with our environment: one rapid and transitory, bringing into play the high-resolution visual areas; the other slow, long-lasting, and low-resolution, useful for interacting with the world.

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2011 (back to top)

Burr, D. C., Cicchini, G. M., Arrighi, R. & Morrone, M. C. (2011). Spatiotopic selectivity of adaptation-based compression of event duration, J Vis, 2 (11), 21; author reply 21a. PDF

A. Bruno, I. Ayhan, and A. Johnston (2010) have recently challenged our report of spatiotopic selectivity for adaptation of event time (D. Burr, A. Tozzi, & M. C. Morrone, 2007) and also our claim that retinotopic adaptation of event time depends on perceived speed. To assist the reader judge this issue, we present here a mass of data accumulated in our laboratories over the last few years, all confirming our original conclusions. We also point out that where Bruno et al. made experimental measurements (rather than relying on theoretical reasoning), they too find clearly significant spatiotopically tuned adaptation-based compression of event time but of lower magnitude to ours. We speculate on the reasons for the differences in magnitude.

Pascucci, D., Megna, N., Panichi, M. & Baldassi, S. (2011). Acoustic cues to visual detection: a classification image study,J Vis, 6 (11), PDF

A non-informative sound is known to improve contrast detection thresholds for a synchronous visual target (M. Lippert, N. K. Logothetis, & C. Kayser, 2007). We investigated the spatio-temporal characteristics of the mechanisms underlying this crossmodal effect by using a classification image paradigm specifically suited to investigate perceptual templates across both space and time (P. Neri & D. J. Heeger, 2002). A bright bar was embedded in 2D (space-time) dynamic noise and observers were asked to detect its presence in both unimodal (only visual) and bimodal (audio-visual) conditions. Classification image analysis was performed and the 1st and 2nd order kernels were derived. Our results show that the cross-modal facilitation of detection consists in a reduction of activity of the early mechanisms elicited by the onset of the stimulation and not directly involved in the identification of the target. In fact, the sound sharpens the 2nd order kernels (involved in target detection) by suppressing the activation preceding the target, whereas it does not influence the 1st order kernels. These data suggest that the sound affects some non-linear process involved with the detection of a visual stimulus by, decreasing the activity of contrast energy filters temporally uncorrelated with the target, hence reducing temporal uncertainty.

Burr, D. C., Anobile, G. & Turi, M. (2011). Adaptation Affects Both High and Low (Subitized) Numbers Under Conditions of High Attentional Load,Seeing and Perceiving, (24), 141-150. PDF

It has recently been reported that, like most sensory systems, numerosity is subject to adaptation. However, the effect seemed to be limited to numerosity estimation outside the subitizing range. In this study we show that low numbers, clearly in the subitizing range, are adaptable under conditions of high attentional load. These results support the idea that numerosity is detected by a perceptual mechanism that operates over the entire range of numbers, supplemented by an attention-based system for small numbers (subitizing).

Thompson, P. & Mikellidou, K. (2011). Applying the Helmholtz illusion to fashion: horizontal stripes won't make you look fatter,Iperception, 1 (2), 69-76. PDF

A square composed of horizontal lines appears taller and narrower than an identical square made up of vertical lines. Reporting this illusion, Hermann von Helmholtz noted that such illusions, in which filled space seems to be larger than unfilled space, were common in everyday life, adding the observation that ladies' frocks with horizontal stripes make the figure look taller. As this assertion runs counter to modern popular belief, we have investigated whether vertical or horizontal stripes on clothing should make the wearer appear taller or fatter. We find that a rectangle of vertical stripes needs to be extended by 7.1% vertically to match the height of a square of horizontal stripes and that a rectangle of horizontal stripes must be made 4.5% wider than a square of vertical stripes to match its perceived width. This illusion holds when the horizontal or vertical lines are on the dress of a line drawing of a woman. We have examined the claim that these effects apply only for 2-dimensional figures in an experiment with 3-D cylinders and find no support for the notion that horizontal lines would be 'fattening' on clothes. Significantly, the illusion persists when the horizontal or vertical lines are on pictures of a real half-body mannequin viewed stereoscopically. All the evidence supports Helmholtz's original assertion.

Lunghi C, Burr DC, Morrone C. (2011). Brief periods of monocular deprivation disrupt ocular balance in human adult visual cortex, Curr Biol. 2011 Jul 26;21(14):R538-9. PDF

Neuroplasticity is a fundamental property of the developing mammalian visual system, with residual potential in adult human cortex [1]. A short period of abnormal visual experience (such as occlusion of one eye) before closure of the critical period has dramatic and permanent neural consequences, reshaping visual cortical organization in favour of the non-deprived eye [2,3]. We used binocular rivalry [4] - a sensitive probe of neural competition - to demonstrate that adult human visual cortex retains a surprisingly high degree of neural plasticity, with important perceptual consequences. We report that 150 minutes of monocular deprivation strongly affects the dynamics of binocular rivalry, unexpectedly causing the deprived eye to prevail in conscious perception twice as much as the non-deprived eye, with significant effects for up to 90 minutes. Apparent contrast of stimuli presented to the deprived eye was also increased, suggesting that the deprivation acts by up-regulation of cortical gain-control mechanisms of the deprived eye. The results suggest that adult visual cortex retains a good deal of plasticity that could be important in reaction to sensory loss.

Gori, M., Mazzilli, G., Sandini, G. & Burr, D. (2011). Cross-Sensory Facilitation Reveals Neural Interactions between Visual and Tactile Motion in Humans,Front Psychol, (2), 55. PDF

Many recent studies show that the human brain integrates information across the different senses and that stimuli of one sensory modality can enhance the perception of other modalities. Here we study the processes that mediate cross-modal facilitation and summation between visual and tactile motion. We find that while summation produced a generic, non-specific improvement of thresholds, probably reflecting higher-order interaction of decision signals, facilitation reveals a strong, direction-specific interaction, which we believe reflects sensory interactions. We measured visual and tactile velocity discrimination thresholds over a wide range of base velocities and conditions. Thresholds for both visual and tactile stimuli showed the characteristic "dipper function," with the minimum thresholds occurring at a given "pedestal speed." When visual and tactile coherent stimuli were combined (summation condition) the thresholds for these multisensory stimuli also showed a "dipper function" with the minimum thresholds occurring in a similar range to that for unisensory signals. However, the improvement of multisensory thresholds was weak and not directionally specific, well predicted by the maximum-likelihood estimation model (agreeing with previous research). A different technique (facilitation) did, however, reveal direction-specific enhancement. Adding a non-informative "pedestal" motion stimulus in one sensory modality (vision or touch) selectively lowered thresholds in the other, by the same amount as pedestals in the same modality. Facilitation did not occur for neutral stimuli like sounds (that would also have reduced temporal uncertainty), nor for motion in opposite direction, even in blocked trials where the subjects knew that the motion was in the opposite direction showing that the facilitation was not under subject control. Cross-sensory facilitation is strong evidence for functionally relevant cross-sensory integration at early levels of sensory processing.

Zimmermann, E. & Lappe, M. (2011). Eye position effects in oculomotor plasticity and visual localization,J Neurosci, 20 (31), 7341-7348. PDF

For visual localization to remain accurate across changes of gaze, a signal representing the position of the eye in the orbita is needed to code spatial locations in a reference frame that is independent of retinal displacements. Here we report evidence that the localization of visual objects in space is coded in an extraretinal reference frame. In human subjects, we used outward saccadic adaptation, which can be induced artificially by a systematic displacement of the saccade target. This form of oculomotor plasticity is accompanied by changes in spatial perception, thus highlighting the relevance of saccade metrics for visual localization. We tested the reference frame of outward adaptation for reactive and scanning saccades and visual localization. For scanning saccades, adaptation magnitude was drastically reduced at positions distant from the adapted eye position. Changes in visual localization showed a very similar modulation of eye position. These results suggest that scanning saccade adaptation is encoded in a nonretinotopic reference frame. Eye position effects for reactive saccade adaptation were smaller, and the induced mislocalization did not vary significantly between eye positions. The different modulation of reactive and scanning saccade adaptation supports the idea that oculomotor plasticity can occur at multiple sites in the brain. The findings are also consistent with previous evidence for a stronger influence of scanning saccade adaptation on the visual localization of objects in space.

Tinelli, F., Guzzetta, A., Bertini, C., Ricci, D., Mercuri, E., Ladavas, E., et al. (2011). Greater Sparing of Visual Search Abilities in Children After Congenital Rather Than Acquired Focal Brain Damage,Neurorehabil Neural Repair, PDF

BACKGROUND: Visual search refers to the capacity of an individual to find a target among simultaneously presented distracters and is based on visual abilities such as a fast visual processing and an accurate control of ballistic eye movements (saccades) that guide the fovea to the target location. OBJECTIVE: In adults, visual field defects caused by brain damage are often associated with visual search disorders; in children, little is known about the effects of early brain lesions on visual search abilities. METHODS: To test the presence of visual search defects and to investigate the role of cortical plasticity after early brain lesions, 29 children with congenital or acquired cerebral lesions, with and without visual field defects, underwent a visual search test battery. RESULTS: The children with acquired lesions and visual field defects had longer reaction times (RTs) in the contralesional visual field compared with the ipsilesional, whereas those with congenital lesions and visual field defects did not have differences in RTs between the contralateral and ipsilateral visual fields and had a visual search pattern similar to children without a visual field defect. CONCLUSIONS: These findings support the hypothesis of more effective mechanisms of functional compensation and reorganization of the visual system in children with very early brain lesions, as opposed to those with later damage.

Burr, D. & Thompson, P. (2011). Motion psychophysics: 1985-2010,Vision Res, PDF

This review traces progress made in the field of visual motion research from 1985 through to 2010. While it is certainly not exhaustive, it attempts to cover most of the major achievements during that period, and speculate on where the field is heading.

Baldassi, S. & Simoncini, C. (2011). Reward sharpens orientation coding independently of attention,Front Neurosci, (5), 13. PDF

It has long been known that rewarding improves performance. However it is unclear whether this is due to high level modulations in the output modules of associated neural systems or due to low level mechanisms favoring more "generous" inputs? Some recent studies suggest that primary sensory areas, including V1 and A1, may form part of the circuitry of reward-based modulations, but there is no data indicating whether reward can be dissociated from attention or cross-trial forms of perceptual learning. Here we address this issue with a psychophysical dual task, to control attention, while perceptual performance on oriented targets associated with different levels of reward is assessed by measuring both orientation discrimination thresholds and behavioral tuning functions for tilt values near threshold. We found that reward, at any rate, improved performance. However, higher reward rates showed an improvement of orientation discrimination thresholds by about 50% across conditions and sharpened behavioral tuning functions. Data were unaffected by changing the attentional load and by dissociating the feature of the reward cue from the task-relevant feature. These results suggest that reward may act within the span of a single trial independently of attention by modulating the activity of early sensory stages through a improvement of the signal-to-noise ratio of task-relevant channels.

Knoll, J., Binda, P., Morrone, M. C. & Bremmer, F. (2011). Spatiotemporal profile of peri-saccadic contrast sensitivity,J Vis, 14 (11), PDF

Sensitivity to luminance contrast is reduced just before and during saccades (saccadic suppression), whereas sensitivity to color contrast is unimpaired peri-saccadically and enhanced post-saccadically. The exact spatiotemporal map of these perceptual effects is as yet unknown. Here, we measured detection thresholds for briefly flashed Gaussian blobs modulated in either luminance or chromatic contrast, displayed at a range of eccentricities. Sensitivity to luminance contrast was reduced peri-saccadically by a scaling factor, which was almost constant across retinal space. Saccadic suppression followed a similar time course across all tested eccentricities and was maximal shortly after the saccade onset. Sensitivity to chromatic contrast was enhanced post-saccadically at all tested locations. The enhancement was not specifically linked to the execution of saccades, as it was also observed following a displacement of retinal images comparable to that caused by a saccade. We conclude that luminance and chromatic contrast sensitivities are subject to distinct modulations at the time of saccades, resulting from independent neural processes.

Burr, D. C. & Morrone, M. C. (2011). Spatiotopic coding and remapping in humans,Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci, 1564 (366), 504-515. PDF

How our perceptual experience of the world remains stable and continuous in the face of continuous rapid eye movements still remains a mystery. This review discusses some recent progress towards understanding the neural and psychophysical processes that accompany these eye movements. We firstly report recent evidence from imaging studies in humans showing that many brain regions are tuned in spatiotopic coordinates, but only for items that are actively attended. We then describe a series of experiments measuring the spatial and temporal phenomena that occur around the time of saccades, and discuss how these could be related to visual stability. Finally, we introduce the concept of the spatio-temporal receptive field to describe the local spatiotopicity exhibited by many neurons when the eyes move.

Crespi, S., Biagi, L., d'Avossa, G., Burr, D. C., Tosetti, M. & Morrone, M. C. (2011). Spatiotopic Coding of BOLD Signal in Human Visual Cortex Depends on Spatial Attention,PLoS One, 7 (6), e21661. PDF

The neural substrate of the phenomenological experience of a stable visual world remains obscure. One possible mechanism would be to construct spatiotopic neural maps where the response is selective to the position of the stimulus in external space, rather than to retinal eccentricities, but evidence for these maps has been inconsistent. Here we show, with fMRI, that when human subjects perform concomitantly a demanding attentive task on stimuli displayed at the fovea, BOLD responses evoked by moving stimuli irrelevant to the task were mostly tuned in retinotopic coordinates. However, under more unconstrained conditions, where subjects could attend easily to the motion stimuli, BOLD responses were tuned not in retinal but in external coordinates (spatiotopic selectivity) in many visual areas, including MT, MST, LO and V6, agreeing with our previous fMRI study. These results indicate that spatial attention may play an important role in mediating spatiotopic selectivity.

Taubert, J., Apthorp, D., Aagten-Murphy, D. & Alais, D. (2011). The role of holistic processing in face perception: evidence from the face inversion effect,Vision Res, 11 (51), 1273-1278.PDF

A large body of research supports the hypothesis that the human visual system does not process a face as a collection of separable facial features but as an integrated perceptual whole. One common assumption is that we quickly build holistic representations to extract useful second-order information provided by the variation between the faces of different individuals. An alternative account suggests holistic processing is a fast, early grouping process that first serves to distinguish faces from other competing objects. From this perspective, holistic processing is a quick initial response to the first-order information present in every face. To test this hypothesis we developed a novel paradigm for measuring the face inversion effect, a standard marker of holistic face processing, that measures the minimum exposure time required to discriminate between two stimuli. These new data demonstrate that holistic processing operates on whole upright faces, regardless of whether subjects are required to extract first- or second-level information. In light of this, we argue that holistic processing is a general mechanism that may occur at an earlier stage of face perception than individual discrimination to support the rapid detection of face stimuli in everyday visual scenes.

Binda, P., Morrone, M. C., Ross, J. & Burr, D. C. (2011). Underestimation of perceived number at the time of saccades,Vision Res, 1 (51), 34-42. PDF

Saccadic eye movements produce transient distortions in both space and time. Mounting evidence suggests that space and time perception are linked, and associated with the perception of another important perceptual attribute, numerosity. Here we investigate the effect of saccades on the perceived numerosity of briefly presented arrays of visual elements. We report a systematic underestimation of numerosity for stimuli flashed just before or during saccades, of about 35% of the reference numerosity. The bias is observed only for relatively large arrays of visual elements, in line with the notion that a distinct perceptual mechanism is involved with enumeration of small numerosities in the 'subitizing' range. This study provides further evidence for the notion that space, time and number share common neural representations, all affected by saccades.

Arrighi, R., Lunardi, R. & Burr, D. (2011). Vision and audition do not share attentional resources in sustained tasks,Front Psychol, (2), 56. PDF

Our perceptual capacities are limited by attentional resources. One important question is whether these resources are allocated separately to each sense or shared between them. We addressed this issue by asking subjects to perform a double task, either in the same modality or in different modalities (vision and audition). The primary task was a multiple object-tracking task (Pylyshyn and Storm, 1988), in which observers were required to track between 2 and 5 dots for 4 s. Concurrently, they were required to identify either which out of three gratings spaced over the interval differed in contrast or, in the auditory version of the same task, which tone differed in frequency relative to the two reference tones. The results show that while the concurrent visual contrast discrimination reduced tracking ability by about 0.7 d', the concurrent auditory task had virtually no effect. This confirms previous reports that vision and audition use separate attentional resources, consistent with fMRI findings of attentional effects as early as V1 and A1. The results have clear implications for effective design of instrumentation and forms of audio-visual communication devices.

Burr, D. (2011). Visual perception: more than meets the eye,Curr Biol, 4 (21), R159-161. PDF

A recent study shows that objects changing in colour, luminance, size or shape appear to stop changing when they move. These and other compelling illusions provide tantalizing clues about the mechanisms and limitations of object analysis.

Tomassini A, Gori M, Burr D, Sandini G and Morrone MC (2011) Perceived duration of visual and tactile stimuli depends on perceived speed. Front. Integr. Neurosci. 5:51 PDF

It is known that the perceived duration of visual stimuli is strongly influenced by speed: faster moving stimuli appear to last longer. To test whether this is a general property of sensory systems we asked participants to reproduce the duration of visual and tactile gratings, and visuo-tactile gratings moving at a variable speed (3.5–15 cm/s) for three different durations (400, 600, and 800 ms). For both modalities, the apparent duration of the stimulus increased strongly with stimulus speed, more so for tactile than for visual stimuli. In addition, visual stimuli were perceived to last approximately 200 ms longer than tactile stimuli. The apparent duration of visuo-tactile stimuli lay between the unimodal estimates, as the Bayesian account predicts, but the bimodal precision of the reproduction did not show the theoretical improvement. A cross-modal speed-matching task revealed that visual stimuli were perceived to move faster than tactile stimuli. To test whether the large difference in the perceived duration of visual and tactile stimuli resulted from the difference in their perceived speed, we repeated the time reproduction task with visual and tactile stimuli matched in apparent speed. This reduced, but did not completely eliminate the difference in apparent duration. These results show that for both vision and touch, perceived duration depends on speed, pointing to common strategies of time perception.

Zimmerman, E., Burr D.C., and Morrone, M.C. (2011) Spatiotopic Visual Maps Revealed by Saccadic Adaptation in Humans, Curr Biol. 2011 Aug 23;21(16):1380-4 PDF

Saccadic adaptation is a powerful experimental paradigm to probe the mechanisms of eye movement control and spatial vision, in which saccadic amplitudes change in response to false visual feedback. The adaptation occurs primarily in the motor system, but there is also evidence for visual adaptation, depending on the size and the permanence of the postsaccadic error. Here we confirm that adaptation has a strong visual component and show that the visual component of the adaptation is spatially selective in external, not retinal coordinates. Subjects performed a memory-guided, double-saccade, outward-adaptation task designed to maximize visual adaptation and to dissociate the visual and motor corrections. When the memorized saccadic target was in the same position (in external space) as that used in the adaptation training, saccade targeting was strongly influenced by adaptation (even if not matched in retinal or cranial position), but when in the same retinal or cranial but different external spatial position, targeting was unaffected by adaptation, demonstrating unequivocal spatiotopic selectivity. These results point to the existence of a spatiotopic neural representation for eye movement control that adapts in response to saccade error signals.

Arrighi, R., Cartocci, G. & Burr, D. (2011). Reduced perceptual sensitivity for biological motion in paraplegia patients,Curr Biol, 22 (21), R910-911. PDF

Physiological and psychophysical studies suggest that the perception and execution of movement may be linked. Here we ask whether severe impairment of locomotion could impact on the capacity to perceive human locomotion. We measured sensitivity for the perception of point-light walkers – animation sequences of human biological motion portrayed by only the joints – in patients with severe spinal injury. These patients showed a huge (nearly three-fold) reduction of sensitivity for detecting and for discriminating the direction of biological motion compared with healthy controls, and also a smaller (~40%) reduction in sensitivity to simple translational motion. However, there was no statistically significant reduction in contrast sensitivity for discriminating the orientation of static gratings. The results point to an interaction between perceiving and producing motion, implicating shared algorithms and neural mechanisms.

 



2010 (back to top)

Schnier, F., Zimmermann, E. & Lappe, M. (2010). Adaptation and mislocalization fields for saccadic outward adaptation in humans,Journal of Eye Movement Research, 4 (3), 1-18. PDF

Adaptive shortening of a saccade influences the metrics of other saccades withina spatial window around the adapted target. Within this adaptation field visualstimuli presented before an adapted saccade are mislocalized in proportion to thechange of the saccade metric. We investigated the saccadic adaptation field andassociated localization changes for saccade lengthening, or outward adaptation. Wemeasured the adaptation field for two different saccade adaptations (14 deg to 20deg and 20 deg to 26 deg) by testing transfer to 34 different target positions. Wemeasured localization judgements by asking subjects to localize a probe flashedbefore saccade onset. The amount of adaptation transfer differed for different targetlocations. It increased with increases of the horizontal component of the saccade andremained largely constant with deviation of the vertical component of the saccade.Mislocalization of probes inside the adaptation field was correlated with the amountof adaptation of saccades to the probe location. These findings are consistent withthe assumption that oculomotor space and perceptual space are linked to each other.

Toscani, M., Marzi, T., Righi, S., Viggiano, M. P. & Baldassi, S. (2010). Alpha waves: a neural signature of visual suppression,Exp Brain Res, 3-4 (207), 213-219. PDF

Alpha waves are traditionally considered a passive consequence of the lack of stimulation of sensory areas. However, recent results have challenged this view by showing a modulation of alpha activity in cortical areas representing unattended information during active tasks. These data have led us to think that alpha waves would support a 'gating function' on sensorial stimulation that actively inhibits unattended information in attentional tasks. Visual suppression occurring during a saccade and blink entails an inhibition of incoming visual information, and it seems to occur at an early processing stage. In this study, we hypothesized that the neural mechanism through which the visual system exerts this inhibition is the active imposition of alpha oscillations in the occipital cortex, which in turn predicts an increment of alpha amplitude during a visual suppression phenomena. We measured visual suppression occurring during short closures of the eyelids, a situation well suited for EEG recordings and stimulated the retinae with an intra-oral light administered through the palate. In the behavioral experiment, detection thresholds were measured with eyes steady open and steady closed, showing a reduction of sensitivity in the latter case. In the EEG recordings performed under identical conditions we found stronger alpha activity with closed eyes. Since the stimulation does not depend on whether the eyes were open or closed, we reasoned that this should be a central effect, probably due to a functional role of alpha oscillation in agreement with the 'gating function' theory.

Morrone, M. C. (2010). Brain development: critical periods for cross-sensory plasticity,Curr Biol, 21 (20), R934-936. PDF

Recent work has shown that visual deprivation of humans during a critical period leads to motion area MT+ responding to auditory motion. This cross-sensory plasticity, an important form of brain reorganization, may be mediated by top-down brain circuits from pre-frontal cortex.

Schutz, A. C. & Morrone, M. C. (2010). Compression of time during smooth pursuit eye movements,Vision Res, 24 (50), 2702-2713. PDF

Humans have a clear sense for the passage of time, but while implicit motor timing is quite accurate, explicit timing is prone to distortions particularly during action (Wenke & Haggard, 2009) and saccadic eye movements (Morrone, Ross, & Burr, 2005). Here, we investigated whether perceived duration is also affected by the execution of smooth pursuit eye movements, showing a compression of apparent duration similar to that observed during saccades. To this end, we presented two brief bars that marked intervals between 100 and 300 ms and asked subjects to judge their duration during fixation and pursuit. We found a compression of perceived duration for bars modulated in luminance contrast of about 32% and for bars modulated in chromatic contrast of 14% during pursuit compared to fixation. Interestingly, Weber ratios were similar for fixation and pursuit, if they are expressed as ratio between JND and perceived duration. This compression was constant for pursuit speeds from 7 to 14 deg/s and did not occur for intervals marked by auditory events. These results argue for a modality-specific component in the processing of temporal information.

Giacomelli, G., Volpe, R., Virgili, G., Farini, A., Arrighi, R., Tarli-Barbieri, C., et al. (2010). Contrast reduction and reading: assessment and reliability with the Reading Explorer test,Eur J Ophthalmol, 2 (20), 389-396. PDF

PURPOSE: To investigate the reliability of the Reading Explorer (REX) charts and to assess the impact of text contrast reduction (1.5 cycle/degree) on reading speed in subjects with normal and low vision. METHODS: Standard visual acuity (ETDRS charts), reading speed (MNread charts), and contrast sensitivity (Pelli-Robson charts) measurements were obtained in 3 groups of subjects stratified by visual acuity level in the better eye from 0.0 to 1.0 logMAR, with intermediate cutoffs at 0.3 and 0.6 logMAR. Measurements of reading speed for decreasing levels of text contrast were obtained with the REX charts using a 1.5 cycle/degree text. RESULTS: Since in many patients with lower vision a plateau of maximum reading speed across different levels of text contrast was not found, reliability indexes were computed for average reading speed and reading contrast threshold. In the group with lower visual acuity, 95% limits of agreement were +/-0.134 log word/minute and +/-0.175 log contrast sensitivity, suggesting good reliability. The proportion of subjects with a 20% loss of reading speed from 90% to 45% text contrast was estimated to be 1/3 at 0.6 logMAR visual acuity level and 2/3 at 1.0 logMAR. CONCLUSIONS: The adverse effect of decreased text contrast, which may be found in ordinary reading material, on the reading performance of subjects with advanced and initial low vision is probably underestimated. The REX test proved to be a reliable investigation tool for this phenomenon.

Ricci, D., Cesarini, L., Gallini, F., Serrao, F., Leone, D., Baranello, G., et al. (2010). Cortical visual function in preterm infants in the first year,J Pediatr, 4 (156), 550-555. PDF

OBJECTIVE: To assess visual function in low-risk preterm infants at 3, 5, and 12 months corrected age to determine whether the maturation of visual function in the first year is similar to that reported in term-born infants. STUDY DESIGN: Seventy-five low-risk infants (25.0-30.9 weeks gestation) underwent ophthalmological examinations and a battery of tests (fix and follow, visual fields, acuity, attention at distance, and fixation shift) designed to assess various aspects of visual function at 3, 5, and 12 months corrected age. RESULTS: The results were comparable with normative data from term-born infants in all tests but fixation shift, suggesting that maturation of most aspects of visual function is not significantly affected by preterm birth. In contrast, >25% of preterm infants failed the fixation shift test at 3 months, with a higher percentage of failing at 5 and 12 months. CONCLUSIONS: There is a specific profile of early visual behavior in low-risk preterm infants, with a high percentage of infants failing a test that specifically assesses visual attention and provides a measure of cortical processing.

Zimmermann, E. & Lappe, M. (2010). Motor signals in visual localization,J Vis, 6 (10), 2. PDF

We demonstrate a strong sensory-motor coupling in visual localization in which experimental modification of the control of saccadic eye movements leads to an associated change in the perceived location of objects. Amplitudes of saccades to peripheral targets were altered by saccadic adaptation, induced by an artificial step of the saccade target during the eye movement, which leads the oculomotor system to recalibrate saccade parameters. Increasing saccade amplitudes induced concurrent shifts in perceived location of visual objects. The magnitude of perceptual shift depended on the size and persistence of errors between intended and actual saccade amplitudes. This tight agreement between the change of eye movement control and the change of localization shows that perceptual space is shaped by motor knowledge rather than simply constructed from visual input.

Guzzetta, A., D'Acunto, G., Rose, S., Tinelli, F., Boyd, R. & Cioni, G. (2010). Plasticity of the visual system after early brain damage,Dev Med Child Neurol, 10 (52), 891-900. PDF

The aim of this review is to discuss the existing evidence supporting different processes of visual brain plasticity after early damage, as opposed to damage that occurs during adulthood. There is initial evidence that some of the neuroplastic mechanisms adopted by the brain after early damage to the visual system are unavailable at a later stage. These are, for example, the ability to differentiate functional tissue within a larger dysplastic cortex during its formation, or to develop new thalamo-cortical connections able to bypass the lesion and reach their cortical destination in the occipital cortex. The young brain also uses the same mechanisms available at later stages of development but in a more efficient way. For example, in people with visual field defects of central origin, the anatomical expansion of the extrastriatal visual network is greater after an early lesion than after a later one, which results in more efficient mechanisms of visual exploration of the blind field. A similar mechanism is likely to support some of the differences found in people with blindsight, the phenomenon of unconscious visual perception in the blind field. In particular, compared with people with late lesions, those with early brain damage appear to have stronger subjective awareness of stimuli hitting the blind visual field, reported as a conscious feeling that something is present in the visual field. Expanding our knowledge of these mechanisms could help the development of early therapeutic interventions aimed at supporting and enhancing visual reorganization at a time of greatest potential brain plasticity.

Gori, M., Sandini, G., Martinoli, C. & Burr, D. (2010). Poor haptic orientation discrimination in nonsighted children may reflect disruption of cross-sensory calibration,Curr Biol, 3 (20), 223-225. PDF

A long-standing question, going back at least 300 years to Berkeley's famous essay, is how sensory systems become calibrated with physical reality. We recently showed [1] that children younger than 8-10 years do not integrate visual and haptic information optimally, but that one or the other sense prevails: touch for size and vision for orientation discrimination. The sensory dominance may reflect crossmodal calibration of vision and touch, where the more accurate sense calibrates the other. This hypothesis leads to a clear prediction: that lack of clear vision at an early age should affect calibration of haptic orientation discrimination. We therefore measured size and orientation haptic discrimination thresholds in 17 congenitally visually impaired children (aged 5-19). Haptic orientation thresholds were greatly impaired compared with age-matched controls, whereas haptic size thresholds were at least as good, and often better. One child with a late-acquired visual impairment stood out with excellent orientation discrimination. The results provide strong support for our crossmodal calibration hypothesis.

Paci, M., Matulli, G., Baccini, M., Rinaldi, L. A. & Baldassi, S. (2010). Reported quality of randomized controlled trials in neglect rehabilitation,Neurol Sci, 2 (31), 159-163. PDF

The aim of this study is to assess the reported quality of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) on the effectiveness of neglect rehabilitation using a standardized scale. A search of seven electronic databases was carried out. Selected articles were scored using the PEDro scale and classified as high or low quality study both with the original cut off of 6 and a modified cut off of 5. A linear regression analysis between year of publication and quality rate was used to test whether the quality of the studies improved with time. A total of 18 RCTs were selected. Six articles (33.3%) and 10 articles (55.56%) were classified as having high quality when the original cut off or the modified cut off of the PEDro scale were used, respectively. Analysis shows no time-related changes in PEDro scores. The results show that reported quality is moderate for RCTs in neglect rehabilitation.

Burr, D. C., Ross, J., Binda, P. & Morrone, M. C. (2010). Saccades compress space, time and number,Trends Cogn Sci, 12 (14), 528-533. PDF

It has been suggested that space, time and number are represented on a common subjective scale. Saccadic eye movements provide a fascinating test. Saccades compress the perceived magnitude of spatial separations and temporal intervals to approximately half of their true value. The question arises as to whether saccades also compress number. They do, and compression follows a very similar time course for all three attributes: it is maximal at saccadic onset and decreases to veridicality within a window of approximately 50ms. These results reinforce the suggestion of a common perceptual metric, which is probably mediated by the intraparietal cortex; they further suggest that before each saccade the common metric for all three is reset, possibly to pave the way for a fresh analysis of the post-saccadic situation.

Morrone, M. C., Cicchini, M. & Burr, D. C. (2010). Spatial maps for time and motion,Exp Brain Res, 2 (206), 121-128. PDF

In this article, we review recent research studying the mechanisms for transforming coordinate systems to encode space, time and motion. A range of studies using functional imaging and psychophysical techniques reveals mechanisms in the human brain for encoding information in external rather than retinal coordinates. This reinforces the idea of a tight relationship between space and time, in the parietal cortex of primates.

Filippi, L., Cavallaro, G., Fiorini, P., Daniotti, M., Benedetti, V., Cristofori, G., et al. (2010). Study protocol: safety and efficacy of propranolol in newborns with Retinopathy of Prematurity (PROP-ROP): ISRCTN18523491,BMC Pediatr, (10), 83. PDF

BACKGROUND: Despite new therapeutic approaches have improved the prognosis of newborns with retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), an unfavourable structural and functional outcome still remains high. There is high pressure to develop new drugs to prevent and treat ROP. There is increasing enthusiasm for anti-VEGF drugs, but angiogenic inhibitors selective for abnormal blood vessels would be considered as an optimal treatment.In an animal experimental model of proliferative retinopathy, we have recently demonstrated that the pharmacological blockade of beta-adrenoreceptors improves retinal neovascularization and blood retinal barrier breakdown consequent to hypoxia. The purpose of this study is to evaluate the propranolol administration in preterm newborns suffering from a precocious phase of ROP in terms of safety and efficacy in counteracting the progression of retinopathy. METHODS/DESIGN: Preterm newborns (gestational age at birth lower than 32 weeks) with stage 2 ROP (zone II-III without plus) will be randomized, according to their gestational age, to receive propranolol added to standard treatment (treatment adopted by the ETROP Cooperative Group) or standard treatment alone. Propranolol will be administered until retinal vascularization will be completely developed, but not more than 90 days. Forty-four participants will be recruited into the study. To evaluate the safety of propranolol administration, cardiac and respiratory parameters will be continuously monitored. Blood samplings will be performed to check renal, liver and metabolic balance. To evaluate the efficacy of propranolol, the progression of the disease, the number of laser treatments or vitrectomies, the incidence of retinal detachment or blindness, will be evaluated by serial ophthalmologic examinations. Visual function will be evaluated by means of behavioural standardized tests. DISCUSSION: This pilot study is the first research that explores the possible therapeutic role of beta blockers in ROP. The objective of this research is highly ambitious: to find a treatment simple, inexpensive, well tolerated and with few adverse effects, able to counteract one of the major complications of the prematurity. Any favourable results of this research could open new perspectives and original scenarios about the treatment or the prevention of this and other proliferative retinopathies. TRIAL REGISTRATION: Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN18523491; ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier NCT01079715; EudraCT Number 2010-018737-21.

Burr, D. C., Turi, M. & Anobile, G. (2010). Subitizing but not estimation of numerosity requires attentional resources,J Vis, 6 (10), 20. PDF

The numerosity of small numbers of objects, up to about four, can be rapidly appraised without error, a phenomenon known as subitizing. Larger numbers can either be counted, accurately but slowly, or estimated, rapidly but with errors. There has been some debate as to whether subitizing uses the same or different mechanisms than those of higher numerical ranges and whether it requires attentional resources. We measure subjects' accuracy and precision in making rapid judgments of numerosity for target numbers spanning the subitizing and estimation ranges while manipulating the attentional load, both with a spatial dual task and the "attentional blink" dual-task paradigm. The results of both attentional manipulations were similar. In the high-load attentional condition, Weber fractions were similar in the subitizing (2-4) and estimation (5-7) ranges (10-15%). In the low-load and single-task condition, Weber fractions substantially improved in the subitizing range, becoming nearly error-free, while the estimation range was relatively unaffected. The results show that the mechanisms operating over the subitizing and estimation ranges are not identical. We suggest that pre-attentive estimation mechanisms works at all ranges, but in the subitizing range, attentive mechanisms also come into play.

Binda, P., Morrone, M. C. & Burr, D. C. (2010). Temporal auditory capture does not affect the time course of saccadic mislocalization of visual stimuli,J Vis, 2 (10), 7 1-13. PDF

Irrelevant sounds can "capture" visual stimuli to change their apparent timing, a phenomenon sometimes termed "temporal ventriloquism". Here we ask whether this auditory capture can alter the time course of spatial mislocalization of visual stimuli during saccades. We first show that during saccades, sounds affect the apparent timing of visual flashes, even more strongly than during fixation. However, this capture does not affect the dynamics of perisaccadic visual distortions. Sounds presented 50 ms before or after a visual bar (that change perceived timing of the bars by more than 40 ms) had no measurable effect on the time courses of spatial mislocalization of the bars, in four subjects. Control studies showed that with barely visible, low-contrast stimuli, leading, but not trailing, sounds can have a small effect on mislocalization, most likely attributable to attentional effects rather than auditory capture. These findings support previous studies showing that integration of multisensory information occurs at a relatively late stage of sensory processing, after visual representations have undergone the distortions induced by saccades.

Zimmermann, E., Schnier, F. & Lappe, M. (2010). The contribution of scene context on change detection performance,Vision Res, 20 (50), 2062-2068. PDF

The gist of a visual scene is perceived in a fraction of a second but in change detection tasks subjects typically need several seconds to find the changing object in a visual scene. Here, we report influences of scene context on change detection performance. Scene context manipulations consisted of scene inversion, scene jumbling, where the images were cut into 24 pieces and randomly recombined, and scene configuration scrambling, where the arrangement of the objects in the scene was randomized. Reaction times, where significantly lower in images with normal scene context. We conclude that scene context structures scene perception.

Lunghi, C., Binda, P. & Morrone, M. C. (2010). Touch disambiguates rivalrous perception at early stages of visual analysis,Curr Biol, 4 (20), R143-144. PDF

Binocular rivalry is a powerful tool to study human consciousness: two equally salient stimuli are imaged on the retinae, but at any given instant only one is consciously perceived, the other suppressed.The suppression takes place early, probably in V1. However, a trace of the suppressed signal has been detected along the dorsal visual pathway (BOLD responses) and demonstrated with psychophysical experiments. The suppressed image of a rotating sphere during rivalry is restored to consciousness when the observer actively controls the rotation and a similar effect on the suppressed signal has been shown for motion perception and reflexive eye movements (see Supplemental References). Here, we asked whether cross-modal sensory signals could selectively interact with rivalrous visual signals that are analyzed at a very early stage, probably V1. An auditory stimulus, when attended, can influence binocular rivalry, extending dominance times for a congruent visual stimulus. Tactile information can  also disambiguate unstable visual motion and can fuse with vision to improve discrimination (e.g. slant). Our results indicate that a haptic oriented stimulus can disambiguate visual perception during binocular rivalry of gratings of orthogonal orientation, not only by prolonging dominance but also by curtailing suppression of the visual stimulus of matched orientation. The effect is selective for the spatial frequency of the stimuli, suggesting that haptic signals interact with early visual representations to enhance access to conscious perception.

Ross, J. & Burr, D. C. (2010). Vision senses number directly,J Vis, 2 (10), 10 11-18. PDF

We have recently suggested that numerosity is a primary sensory attribute, and shown that it is strongly susceptible to adaptation. Here we use the Method of Single Stimuli to show that observers can extract a running average of numerosity of a succession of stimuli to use as a standard of comparison for subsequent stimuli. On separate sessions observers judged whether the perceived numerosity or density of a particular trial was greater or less than the average of previous stimuli. Thresholds were as precise for this task as for explicit comparisons of test with standard stimuli. Importantly, we found no evidence that numerosity judgments are mediated by density. Under all conditions, judgements of numerosity were as precise as those of density. Thresholds in intermingled conditions, where numerosity varied unpredictably with density, were as precise as the blocked thresholds. Judgments in constant-density conditions were more precise thresholds than those in variable-density conditions, and numerosity judgements in conditions of constant-numerosity showed no tendency to follow density. We further report the novel finding that perceived numerosity increases with decreasing luminance, whereas texture density does not, further evidence for independent processing of the two attributes. All these measurements suggest that numerosity judgments can be, and are, made independently of judgments of the density of texture.

Burr, D. C. & Morrone, M. C. (2010). Vision: keeping the world still when the eyes move,Curr Biol, 10 (20), R442-444. PDF

A long-standing problem for visual science is how the world remains so apparently stable in the face of continual rapid eye movements. New experimental evidence, and computational models are helping to solve this mystery.

Campanella, F., Sandini, G. & Morrone, M. C. (2010). Visual information gleaned by observing grasping movement in allocentric and egocentric perspectives,Proc Biol Sci, 1715 (278), 2142-2149. PDF

One of the major functions of vision is to allow for an efficient and active interaction with the environment. In this study, we investigate the capacity of human observers to extract visual information from observation of their own actions, and those of others, from different viewpoints. Subjects discriminated the size of objects by observing a point-light movie of a hand reaching for an invisible object. We recorded real reach-and-grasp actions in three-dimensional space towards objects of different shape and size, to produce two-dimensional 'point-light display' movies, which were used to measure size discrimination for reach-and-grasp motion sequences, release-and-withdraw sequences and still frames, all in egocentric and allocentric perspectives. Visual size discrimination from action was significantly better in egocentric than in allocentric view, but only for reach-and-grasp motion sequences: release-and-withdraw sequences or still frames derived no advantage from egocentric viewing. The results suggest that the system may have access to an internal model of action that contributes to calibrate visual sense of size for an accurate grasp.



2009 (back to top)

Burr, D., Banks, M. S. & Morrone, M. C. (2009). Auditory dominance over vision in the perception of interval duration,Exp Brain Res, 1 (198), 49-57. PDF

The "ventriloquist effect" refers to the fact that vision usually dominates hearing in spatial localization, and this has been shown to be consistent with optimal integration of visual and auditory signals (Alais and Burr in Curr Biol 14(3):257-262, 2004). For temporal localization, however, auditory stimuli often "capture" visual stimuli, in what has become known as "temporal ventriloquism". We examined this quantitatively using a bisection task, confirming that sound does tend to dominate the perceived timing of audio-visual stimuli. The dominance was predicted qualitatively by considering the better temporal localization of audition, but the quantitative fit was less than perfect, with more weight being given to audition than predicted from thresholds. As predicted by optimal cue combination, the temporal localization of audio-visual stimuli was better than for either sense alone.

Arrighi, R., Arecchi, F. T., Farini, A. & Gheri, C. (2009). Cueing the interpretation of a Necker Cube: a way to inspect fundamental cognitive processes,Cogn Process, (10 Suppl 1), S95-99.PDF

The term perceptual bistability refers to all those conditions in which an observer looks at an ambiguous stimulus that can have two or more distinct but equally reliable interpretations. In this work, we investigate perception of Necker Cube in which bistability consists of the possibility to interpret the cube depth in two different ways. We manipulated the cube ambiguity by darkening one of the cube faces (cue) to provide a clear cube interpretation due to the occlusion depth index. When the position of the cue is stationary the cube perceived perspective is steady and driven by the cue position. However, when we alternated in time the cue position (i.e. we changed the position of the darkened cube face) two different perceptual phenomena occurred: for low frequencies the cube perspective alternated in line with the position of the cue; however for high frequencies the cue was no longer able to bias the perception but it appears as a floating feature traveling across the solid with the cube whole perspective that returns to be bistable as in the conventional, bias-free, case.

Arrighi, R., Marini, F. & Burr, D. (2009). Meaningful auditory information enhances perception of visual biological motion,J Vis, 4 (9), 25 21-27. PDF

Robust perception requires efficient integration of information from our various senses. Much recent electrophysiology points to neural areas responsive to multisensory stimulation, particularly audiovisual stimulation. However, psychophysical evidence for functional integration of audiovisual motion has been ambiguous. In this study we measure perception of an audiovisual form of biological motion, tap dancing. The results show that the audio tap information interacts with visual motion information, but only when in synchrony, demonstrating a functional combination of audiovisual information in a natural task. The advantage of multimodal combination was better than the optimal maximum likelihood prediction.

Zimmermann, E. & Lappe, M. (2009). Mislocalization of flashed and stationary visual stimuli after adaptation of reactive and scanning saccades,J Neurosci, 35 (29), 11055-11064. PDF

When we look around and register the location of visual objects, our oculomotor system continuously prepares targets for saccadic eye movements. The preparation of saccade targets may be directly involved in the perception of object location because modification of saccade amplitude by saccade adaptation leads to a distortion of the visual localization of briefly flashed spatial probes. Here, we investigated effects of adaptation on the localization of continuously visible objects. We compared adaptation-induced mislocalization of probes that were present for 20 ms during the saccade preparation period and of probes that were present for >1 s before saccade initiation. We studied the mislocalization of these probes for two different saccade types, reactive saccades to a suddenly appearing target and scanning saccades in the self-paced viewing of a stationary scene. Adaptation of reactive saccades induced mislocalization of flashed probes. Adaptation of scanning saccades induced in addition also mislocalization of stationary objects. The mislocalization occurred in the absence of visual landmarks and must therefore originate from the change in saccade motor parameters. After adaptation of one type of saccade, the saccade amplitude change and the mislocalization transferred only weakly to the other saccade type. Mislocalization of flashed and stationary probes thus followed the selectivity of saccade adaptation. Since the generation and adaptation of reactive and scanning saccades are known to involve partially different brain mechanisms, our results suggest that visual localization of objects in space is linked to saccade targeting at multiple sites in the brain.

Guzzetta, A., Tinelli, F., Del Viva, M. M., Bancale, A., Arrighi, R., Pascale, R. R., et al. (2009). Motion perception in preterm children: role of prematurity and brain damage,Neuroreport, 15 (20), 1339-1343. PDF

We tested 26 school-aged children born preterm at a gestational age below 34 weeks, 13 with and 13 without periventricular brain damage, with four different visual stimuli assessing perception of pure global motion (optic flow), with some form information (segregated translational motion) and form-defined static stimuli. Results were compared with a group of age-matched healthy term-born controls. Preterm children with brain damage showed significantly lower sensitivities relative to full-term controls in all four tests, whereas those without brain damage were significantly worse than controls only for the pure motion stimuli. Furthermore, when form information was embedded in the stimulus, preterm children with brain lesions scored significantly worse than those without lesions. These results suggest that in preterm children dorsal stream-related functions are impaired irrespective of the presence of brain damage, whereas deficits of the ventral stream are more related to the presence of periventricular brain damage.

Pei, F., Baldassi, S., Procida, G., Igliozzi, R., Tancredi, R., Muratori, F., et al. (2009). Neural correlates of texture and contour integration in children with autism spectrum disorders,Vision Res, 16 (49), 2140-2150. PDF

In this study, we have used an electrophysiological paradigm to investigate the neural correlates of the visual integration of local signals across space to generate global percepts in a group of low functioning autistic kids. We have analyzed the amplitude of key harmonics of the Visual Evoked Potentials (VEPs) recorded while participants observed orientation-based texture and contour stimuli, forming coherent global patterns, alternating with visual patterns in which the same number of local elements were randomly oriented in order to loose any globally organized feature. Comparing the results of the clinical sample with those obtained in an age-matched control group, we have observed that in the texture conditions the 1st and 3rd harmonics, containing signature of global form processing (Norcia, Pei, Bonneh, Hou, Sampath, & Pettet, 2005), were present in the control group, while in the experimental group only the 1st harmonic was present. In the Contour condition the 1st harmonic was not present for both groups while the 3rd harmonic was significantly present in the control group but absent in the group with autism. Moreover, the amount of organization required to elicit significant 1st harmonic response in the texture condition was higher in the clinical group. The present results bring additional support to the idea that texture and contour processing are supported by independent mechanisms in normal vision. Autistic vision would thus be characterized by a preserved, perhaps weaker texture mechanism, possibly mediated by feedback interactions between visual areas, and by a disfunction of the mechanism supporting contour processing, possibly mediated by long-range intra-cortical connections. Within this framework, the residual ability to detect contours shown in psychophysical studies could be due to the contribution of the texture mechanism to contour processing.

Burr, D. C., Baldassi, S., Morrone, M. C. & Verghese, P. (2009). Pooling and segmenting motion signals,Vision Res, 10 (49), 1065-1072. PDF

Humans are extremely sensitive to visual motion, largely because local motion signals can be integrated over a large spatial region. On the other hand, summation is often not advantageous, for example when segmenting a moving stimulus against a stationary or oppositely moving background. In this study we show that the spatial extent of motion integration is not compulsory, but is subject to voluntary attentional control. Measurements of motion coherence sensitivity with summation and search paradigms showed that human observers can combine motion signals from cued regions or patches in an optimal manner, even when the regions are quite distinct and remote from each other. Further measurements of contrast sensitivity reinforce previous studies showing that motion integration is preceded by a local analysis akin to contrast thresholding (or intrinsic uncertainty). The results were well modelled by two standard signal-detection-theory models.

Baldassi, S., Pei, F., Megna, N., Recupero, G., Viespoli, M., Igliozzi, R., et al. (2009). Search superiority in autism within, but not outside the crowding regime,Vision Res, 16 (49), 2151-2156. PDF

Visual cognition of observers with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) seems to show an unbalance between the complementary functions of integration and segregation. This study uses visual search and crowding paradigms to probe the relative ability of children with autism, compared to normal developments children, to extract individual targets from cluttered backgrounds both within and outside the crowding regime. The data show that standard search follows the same pattern in the ASD and control groups with a strong effect of the set size that is substantially weakened by cueing the target location with a synchronous spatial cue. On the other hand, the crowding effect of eight flankers surrounding a small peripheral target is virtually absent in the clinical sample, indicating a superior ability to segregate cluttered visual items. This data, along with evidence of an impairment to the neural system for binding contours in ASD, bring additional support to the general idea of a shift of the trade-off between integration and segregation toward the latter. More specifically, they show that when discriminability is balanced across conditions, an advantage in odd-man out tasks is evident in ASD observers only within the crowding regime, when binding mechanism might get compulsorily triggered in normal observers.

Cicchini, G. M. & Morrone, M. C. (2009). Shifts in spatial attention affect the perceived duration of events,J Vis, 1 (9), 9 1-13. PDF

We investigated the relationship between attention and perceived duration of visual events with a double-task paradigm. The primary task was to discriminate the size change of a 2 degree circle presented 10 degrees left, right, above, or below fixation; the secondary task was to judge the temporal separation (from 133 ms to 633 ms) of two equiluminant horizontal bars (10 deg x 2 deg) briefly flashed 12 degrees above or below fixation. The stimulus onset asynchrony (SOA) between primary and secondary task ranged from -1300 ms to +1000 ms. Temporal intervals in proximity of the onset of the primary task stimuli were perceived strongly compressed by up to 40%. The effect was proportional to the size of the interval with a maximum effect at 100 ms SOA. Control experiments show that neither primary-task difficulty, nor the type of primary task discrimination (form or motion, or equiluminant or luminance contrast) nor spatial congruence between primary and secondary task alter the effect. Interestingly, the compression occurred only when the intervals are marked by bars presented in separated spatial locations: when the interval is marked by two bars flashed in the same spatial position no temporal distortion was found. These data indicate that attention can alter perceived duration when the brain has to compare the passage of time at two different spatial positions, corroborating earlier findings that mechanisms of time perception may monitor separately the various spatial locations possibly at high level of analysis.

Binda, P., Cicchini, G. M., Burr, D. C. & Morrone, M. C. (2009). Spatiotemporal distortions of visual perception at the time of saccades,J Neurosci, 42 (29), 13147-13157. PDF

Both space and time are grossly distorted during saccades. Here we show that the two distortions are strongly linked, and that both could be a consequence of the transient remapping mechanisms that affect visual neurons perisaccadically. We measured perisaccadic spatial and temporal distortions simultaneously by asking subjects to report both the perceived spatial location of a perisaccadic vertical bar (relative to a remembered ruler), and its perceived timing (relative to two sounds straddling the bar). During fixation and well before or after saccades, bars were localized veridically in space and in time. In different epochs of the perisaccadic interval, temporal perception was subject to different biases. At about the time of the saccadic onset, bars were temporally mislocalized 50-100 ms later than their actual presentation and spatially mislocalized toward the saccadic target. Importantly, the magnitude of the temporal distortions co-varied with the spatial localization bias and the two phenomena had similar dynamics. Within a brief period about 50 ms before saccadic onset, stimuli were perceived with shorter latencies than at other delays relative to saccadic onset, suggesting that the perceived passage of time transiently inverted its direction. Based on this result we could predict the inversion of perceived temporal order for two briefly flashed visual stimuli. We developed a model that simulates the perisaccadic transient change of neuronal receptive fields predicting well the reported temporal distortions. The key aspects of the model are the dynamics of the "remapped" activity and the use of decoder operators that are optimal during fixation, but are not updated perisaccadically.

Burr, D., Silva, O., Cicchini, G. M., Banks, M. S. & Morrone, M. C. (2009). Temporal mechanisms of multimodal binding,Proc Biol Sci, 1663 (276), 1761-1769. PDF

The simultaneity of signals from different senses-such as vision and audition-is a useful cue for determining whether those signals arose from one environmental source or from more than one. To understand better the sensory mechanisms for assessing simultaneity, we measured the discrimination thresholds for time intervals marked by auditory, visual or auditory-visual stimuli, as a function of the base interval. For all conditions, both unimodal and cross-modal, the thresholds followed a characteristic 'dipper function' in which the lowest thresholds occurred when discriminating against a non-zero interval. The base interval yielding the lowest threshold was roughly equal to the threshold for discriminating asynchronous from synchronous presentations. Those lowest thresholds occurred at approximately 5, 15 and 75 ms for auditory, visual and auditory-visual stimuli, respectively. Thus, the mechanisms mediating performance with cross-modal stimuli are considerably slower than the mechanisms mediating performance within a particular sense. We developed a simple model with temporal filters of different time constants and showed that the model produces discrimination functions similar to the ones we observed in humans. Both for processing within a single sense, and for processing across senses, temporal perception is affected by the properties of temporal filters, the outputs of which are used to estimate time offsets, correlations between signals, and more.

Thompson, P. & Burr, D. (2009). Visual aftereffects,Curr Biol, 1 (19), R11-14. PDF



2008 (back to top)

Burr, D. & Ross, J. (2008). A visual sense of number,Curr Biol, 6 (18), 425-428. PDF

Evidence exists for a nonverbal capacity for the apprehension of number, in humans [1] (including infants [2, 3]) and in other primates [4-6]. Here, we show that perceived numerosity is susceptible to adaptation, like primary visual properties of a scene, such as color, contrast, size, and speed. Apparent numerosity was decreased by adaptation to large numbers of dots and increased by adaptation to small numbers, the effect depending entirely on the numerosity of the adaptor, not on contrast, size, orientation, or pixel density, and occurring with very low adaptor contrasts. We suggest that the visual system has the capacity to estimate numerosity and that it is an independent primary visual property, not reducible to others like spatial frequency or density of texture [7].

Del Viva, M. M. & Gori, M. (2008). Anti-Glass patterns and real motion perception: same or different mechanisms?,J Vis, 2 (8), 1 1-15. PDF

A sequence of anti-Glass patterns, composed by dot pairs with opposite luminance polarity, elicits a clear perception of motion in the direction of the white dot of the pair. This effect can be reversed by introducing a delay in the presentation of white dots, suggesting a faster processing of light dots as a cause of the motion signal (M. M. Del Viva, M. Gori, & D. C. Burr, 2006). If this hypothesis is correct, anti-Glass patterns should interact with real motion signals. In this study, we compare the motion induced by these stimuli to test whether they are analyzed by the same motion mechanism. We found that motion induced by anti-Glass patterns annuls real motion, when they are presented simultaneously in the same display and moving in opposite directions. By lowering the contrast of one of them, motion toward the stimulus with higher contrast prevails. We also found sub-threshold summation of motion induced by anti-Glass patterns and real motion, when presented simultaneously and moving in the same direction. These findings indicate that anti-Glass patterns and moving stimuli are processed by the same, contrast-dependent motion mechanism and lend further support to the proposed explanation of the effect.

Perna, A., Tosetti, M., Montanaro, D. & Morrone, M. C. (2008). BOLD response to spatial phase congruency in human brain,J Vis, 10 (8), 15 11-15. PDF

Human psychophysical observations, computational models, and the selectivity of neurons in primary visual cortex all suggest that an early step in visual processing is the detection of features such as lines and edges. However, previous fMRI experiments investigating the responses of early visual areas to phase coherence have led to apparently discordant results. We studied the human brain BOLD responses to structured periodic band-pass images of matched amplitude spectrum but of different phase spectra, arranged to create three distinct types of stimuli: pure edges; pure lines (matched global and local energy to the edges, but different phase); and random noise (random phase spectrum, hence no salient features, and a different spatial distribution of local energy from the lines and edges stimuli). Alternation of lines against edges did not activate primary visual cortex, but did activate two higher order visual areas. Alternation of these lines or edges against the random stimulus produced a strong activity in many visual areas, including primary visual cortex. Interestingly, the BOLD activity was higher for the edges and lines than for the random stimuli for a wide range of stimulus contrasts, indicating the presence of non-linear gain modulation in the cell response. These results show that phase congruency is coded at the level of primary visual cortex. We show that a stage of response gain modulation can explain our present and previous fMRI discordant results.

Cicchini, G. M., Valsecchi, M. & De'Sperati, C. (2008). Head movements modulate visual responsiveness in the absence of gaze shifts,Neuroreport, 8 (19), 831-834. PDF

Visuospatial attention is strongly associated with saccades. Given that gaze shifts are often accomplished by combined eye-head movements, attention may also be coupled to head movements. We showed that simply turning the head without shifting the gaze is sufficient to cause a transient unbalance in responding to a visual stimulus. Manual responses to a stimulus flashed shortly before the onset of a horizontal head movement were faster in congruent trials, when the head moved towards the stimulus, than in incongruent trials, when the head moved away from the stimulus. These effects are similar to those observed for saccades. We take this as evidence for a tight link between visuospatial attention and head movements, even when the gaze does not shift.

Morrone, M. C., Guzzetta, A., Tinelli, F., Tosetti, M., Del Viva, M., Montanaro, D., et al. (2008). Inversion of perceived direction of motion caused by spatial undersampling in two children with periventricular leukomalacia,J Cogn Neurosci, 6 (20), 1094-1106. PDF

We report here two cases of two young diplegic patients with cystic periventricular leukomalacia who systematically, and with high sensitivity, perceive translational motion of a random-dot display in the opposite direction. The apparent inversion was specific for translation motion: Rotation and expansion motion were perceived correctly, with normal sensitivity. It was also specific for random-dot patterns, not occurring with gratings. For the one patient that we were able to test extensively, contrast sensitivity for static stimuli was normal, but was very low for direction discrimination at high spatial frequencies and all temporal frequencies. His optokinetic nystagmus movements were normal but he was unable to track a single translating target, indicating a perceptual origin of the tracking deficit. The severe deficit for motion perception was also evident in the seminatural situation of a driving simulation video game. The perceptual deficit for translational motion was reinforced by functional magnetic resonance imaging studies. Translational motion elicited no response in the MT complex, although it did produce a strong response in many visual areas when contrasted with blank stimuli. However, radial and rotational motion produced a normal pattern of activation in a subregion of the MT complex. These data reinforce the existent evidence for independent cortical processing for translational, and circular or radial flow motion, and further suggest that the two systems have different vulnerability and plasticity to prenatal damage. They also highlight the complexity of visual motion perception, and how the delicate balance of neural activity can lead to paradoxical effects such as consistent misperception of the direction of motion. We advance a possible explanation of a reduced spatial sampling of the motion stimuli and report a simple model that simulates well the experimental results.

Guzzetta, F., Cioni, G., Mercuri, E., Fazzi, E., Biagioni, E., Veggiotti, P., et al. (2008). Neurodevelopmental evolution of West syndrome: a 2-year prospective study,Eur J Paediatr Neurol, 5 (12), 387-397. PDF

OBJECTIVE: The aim of this study was to evaluate the epileptic and developmental evolution in infants with West syndrome. METHODS: A prospective study of 21 infants was performed, with a follow-up at 2 years. Serial assessment included long-term EEG monitoring, visual and auditory evaluation and assessment of neurodevelopment. RESULTS: Neurosensory and developmental impairments at the spasm onset were transitory in seven cases, including four cryptogenic forms. In all other cases, there was a progressive worsening in neurosensory and developmental impairments. The epileptic evolution was generally better: in 11 of the 16 infants without seizures at outcome, spasms had already disappeared by 2 months after disease onset. Statistic analysis of results showed a correlation between neurosensory impairment and development throughout the whole follow-up. In addition, visual function at T1 resulted significant predictor of developmental outcome. Among the epileptic features, disorganization of slow sleep was an unfavorable prognostic factor. CONCLUSION: Some forms of West syndrome are confirmed to have a benign evolution: among them there are not only cryptogenic cases but also symptomatic ones without significant neurodevelopmental impairment. Abnormalities of sleep organization, expression of the pervasive epileptic disorder, seem to play a role in determining a developmental deterioration. Neurosensory impairment since the onset of the disease could be a relevant cause of the developmental disorder.

Gheri, C. & Baldassi, S. (2008). Non-linear integration of crowded orientation signals,Vision Res, 22 (48), 2352-2358. PDF

Crowding of oriented signals has been explained as linear, compulsory averaging of the signals from target and flankers [Parkes, L., Lund, J., Angelucci, A., Solomon, J. A., & Morgan, M. (2001). Compulsory averaging of crowded orientation signals in human vision. Nature Neuroscience, 4(7), 739-744]. On the other hand, a comparable search task with sparse stimuli is well modeled by a 'Signed-Max' rule that integrates non-linearly local tilt estimates [Baldassi, S., & Verghese, P. (2002). Comparing integration rules in visual search. Journal of Vision, 2(8), 559-570], as reflected by the bimodality of the distributions of reported tilts in a magnitude matching task [Baldassi, S., Megna, N., & Burr, D. C. (2006). Visual clutter causes high-magnitude errors. PLoS Biology, 4(3), e56]. This study compares the two models in the context of crowding by using a magnitude matching task, to measure distributions of perceived target angles and a localization task, to probe the degree of access to local information. Response distributions were bimodal, implying uncertainty, only in the presence of abutting flankers. Localization of the target is relatively preserved but it quantitatively falls in between the predictions of the two models, possibly suggesting local averaging followed by a max operation. This challenges the notion of global averaging and suggests some conscious access to local orientation estimates.

Tinelli, F., Pei, F., Guzzetta, A., Bancale, A., Mazzotti, S., Baldassi, S., et al. (2008). The assessment of visual acuity in children with periventricular damage: a comparison of behavioural and electrophysiological techniques,Vision Res, 10 (48), 1233-1241. PDF

It has been controversial whether electrophysiology offers better precision than behavioural techniques in measuring visual acuity in children with brain damage. We investigated the concordance between sweep VEPs and Acuity Cards (AC) in 29 children with periventricular leukomalacia (PVL), the most common type of brain damage in preterm infants. An overall good correlation was shown but with relatively better behavioural acuity values. VEP/AC ratio was significantly correlated to corpus callosum posterior thinning. We propose that this result reflects the efficacy of the compensatory mechanisms following early brain damage which may differentially affect the two methods.

Ross, J. & Burr, D. (2008). The knowing visual self,Trends Cogn Sci, 10 (12), 363-364. PDF

Like all information-processing systems, biological visual systems are limited by internal and external noise; but this noise never actually impinges on our conscious perception. An article recently published in the Journal of Vision suggests that, at least for orientation judgments, the visual system has access to its own noisiness and sets thresholds accordingly. This could well be a general principle in perception, with important and wide ranging consequences.

Gori, M., Del Viva, M., Sandini, G. & Burr, D. C. (2008). Young children do not integrate visual and haptic form information,Curr Biol, 9 (18), 694-698. PDF

Several studies have shown that adults integrate visual and haptic information (and information from other modalities) in a statistically optimal fashion, weighting each sense according to its reliability [1, 2]. When does this capacity for crossmodal integration develop? Here, we show that prior to 8 years of age, integration of visual and haptic spatial information is far from optimal, with either vision or touch dominating totally, even in conditions in which the dominant sense is far less precise than the other (assessed by discrimination thresholds). For size discrimination, haptic information dominates in determining both perceived size and discrimination thresholds, whereas for orientation discrimination, vision dominates. By 8-10 years, the integration becomes statistically optimal, like adults. We suggest that during development, perceptual systems require constant recalibration, for which cross-sensory comparison is important. Using one sense to calibrate the other precludes useful combination of the two sources.



2007 (back to top)

Pellicano, E., Jeffery, L., Burr, D. & Rhodes, G. (2007). Abnormal adaptive face-coding mechanisms in children with autism spectrum disorder,Curr Biol, 17 (17), 1508-1512. PDF

In low-level vision, exquisite sensitivity to variation in luminance is achieved by adaptive mechanisms that adjust neural sensitivity to the prevailing luminance level. In high-level vision, adaptive mechanisms contribute to our remarkable ability to distinguish thousands of similar faces [1]. A clear example of this sort of adaptive coding is the face-identity aftereffect [2, 3, 4, 5], in which adaptation to a particular face biases perception toward the opposite identity. Here we investigated face adaptation in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) by asking them to discriminate between two face identities, with and without prior adaptation to opposite-identity faces. The ASD group discriminated the identities with the same precision as did the age- and ability-matched control group, showing that face identification per se was unimpaired. However, children with ASD showed significantly less adaptation than did their typical peers, with the amount of adaptation correlating significantly with current symptomatology, and face aftereffects of children with elevated symptoms only one third those of controls. These results show that although children with ASD can learn a simple discrimination between two identities, adaptive face-coding mechanisms are severely compromised, offering a new explanation for previously reported face-perception difficulties [6, 7, 8] and possibly for some of the core social deficits in ASD [9, 10].

Viviani, P., Binda, P. & Borsato, T. (2007). Categorical perception of newly learned faces,Visual Cognition, 4 (15), 420-467. PDF

Five experiments investigated identification and discrimination of faces. Stimuli were blends of two faces generated with a morphing algorithm. Two same-gender and two different-gender pairs of faces were tested. Experiment 1 (identification) estimated the point of indifference along the morphing sequence, and the associated differential threshold. Experiment 2 (discrimination, ABX) demonstrated that novel faces are perceived categorically. Identity was a more important factor than gender in generating the perceptual categories. Experiment 3 and 4 (identification) demonstrated that categories are generated progressively in the course of the experiment and depend on the range of morphs tested in any one condition. Confidence ratings (Experiment 5) showed that the multidimensional space where faces are represented can be collapsed onto a single dimension. Response probabilities and response times for Experiments 1-4 were predicted simultaneously by a counting model postulating that quanta of discriminal information are sampled independently from the stimuli.

Binda, P., Bruno, A., Burr, D. C. & Morrone, M. C. (2007). Fusion of visual and auditory stimuli during saccades: a Bayesian explanation for perisaccadic distortions,J Neurosci, 32 (27), 8525-8532. PDF

Brief stimuli presented near the onset of saccades are grossly mislocalized in space. In this study, we investigated whether the Bayesian hypothesis of optimal sensory fusion could account for the mislocalization. We required subjects to localize visual, auditory, and audiovisual stimuli at the time of saccades (compared with an earlier presented target). During fixation, vision dominates and spatially "captures" the auditory stimulus (the ventriloquist effect). But for perisaccadic presentations, auditory localization becomes more important, so the mislocalized visual stimulus is seen closer to its veridical position. The precision of the bimodal localization (as measured by localization thresholds or just-noticeable difference) was better than either the visual or acoustic stimulus presented in isolation. Both the perceived position of the bimodal stimuli and the improved precision were well predicted by assuming statistically optimal Bayesian-like combination of visual and auditory signals. Furthermore, the time course of localization was well predicted by the Bayesian approach. We present a detailed model that simulates the time-course data, assuming that perceived position is given by the sum of retinal position and a sluggish noisy eye-position signal, obtained by integrating optimally the output of two populations of neural activity: one centered at the current point of gaze, the other centered at the future point of gaze.

Bruno, A. & Morrone, M. C. (2007). Influence of saccadic adaptation on spatial localization: comparison of verbal and pointing reports,J Vis, 5 (7), 16 11-13. PDF

Under conditions of short-term saccadic adaptation, stimuli presented long before saccadic onset are perceptually mislocalized in space. Here we study whether saccadic adaptation can also affect localization of objects by pointing. We measured localization performance during fixation and after normal saccades and adapted saccades, for a bar presented well before a saccadic eye movement, for both pointing and verbal localization, under open-loop conditions generated by a transient dark period about 300 ms after the presentation of the bar. During fixation and normal saccade, localization performance for verbal report was veridical, while for pointing there was an overestimation of the target eccentricity respect to gaze, in agreement with the idea of separate representations of space for action and perception. During saccadic adaptation, there was a significant shift of both pointing and verbal report localization in the direction of adaptation with similar spatial selectivity for both tasks. These results indicate that saccadic adaptation induces a similar re-calibration of the action map as well as of the perceptual map, suggesting a common site of operation in the transformation from eye-centered to gaze-centered coordinates.

Caputo, R., Tinelli, F., Bancale, A., Campa, L., Frosini, R., Guzzetta, A., et al. (2007). Motor coordination in children with congenital strabismus: effects of late surgery,Eur J Paediatr Neurol, 5 (11), 285-291. PDF

BACKGROUND: Strabismus is one of the most common visual disorders in infancy. While there is a great attention on the effects of the timing of surgery as to the development of binocular vision, little is known about the possible influence of congenital strabismus on perceptual-motor and more generally, on neuromotor development. AIMS: Aim of this study was to investigate perceptual-motor and motor coordination abilities of 19 children with essential congenital esotropia who underwent a late surgery (after 4 years), compared to 23 age-matched controls. METHODS: Children were tested using the Movement Assessment Battery for Children (Movement ABC) that were performed both 1-week before surgery (T1) and about 3 months (+/-2 weeks) after surgery (T2). RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS: At T1, abnormal or borderline results were found in more than half of the children with strabismus, as opposed to only about 17% of the controls. At T2 none of the children showed abnormal Movement ABC total scores and there was no difference in global scores between the study and the control group. The two groups also did not show any significant difference in individual items of the movement ABC with the exception of those assessing ball skills. Our results suggest that surgical correction of strabismus, even when performed after the 4th year of life, appears to be effective in improving perceptual-motor and motor function.

Burr, D., Tozzi, A. & Morrone, M. C. (2007). Neural mechanisms for timing visual events are spatially selective in real-world coordinates,Nat Neurosci, 4 (10), 423-425. PDF

It is generally assumed that perceptual events are timed by a centralized supramodal clock. This study challenges this notion in humans by providing clear evidence that visual events of subsecond duration are timed by visual neural mechanisms with spatially circumscribed receptive fields, localized in real-world, rather than retinal, coordinates.

d'Avossa, G., Tosetti, M., Crespi, S., Biagi, L., Burr, D. C. & Morrone, M. C. (2007). Spatiotopic selectivity of BOLD responses to visual motion in human area MT,Nat Neurosci, 2 (10), 249-255. PDF

Many neurons in the monkey visual extrastriate cortex have receptive fields that are affected by gaze direction. In humans, psychophysical studies suggest that motion signals may be encoded in a spatiotopic fashion. Here we use functional magnetic resonance imaging to study spatial selectivity in the human middle temporal cortex (area MT or V5), an area that is clearly implicated in motion perception. The results show that the response of MT is modulated by gaze direction, generating a spatial selectivity based on screen rather than retinal coordinates. This area could be the neurophysiological substrate of the spatiotopic representation of motion signals.

Ciaramelli, E., Leo, F., Del Viva, M. M., Burr, D. C. & Ladavas, E. (2007). The contribution of prefrontal cortex to global perception,Exp Brain Res, 3 (181), 427-434. PDF

Recent research suggests a role of top-down modulatory signals on perceptual processing, particularly for the integration of local elementary information to form a global holistic percept. In this study we investigated whether prefrontal cortex may be instrumental in this top-down modulation in humans. We measured detection thresholds for perceiving a circle defined by a closed chain of grating patches in 6 patients with prefrontal lesions, 4 control patients with temporal lesions and 17 healthy control subjects. Performance of patients with prefrontal lesions was worse than that of patients with temporal lesions and normal controls when the patterns were sparse, requiring integration across relatively extensive regions of space, but similar to the control groups for denser patterns. The results clearly implicate the prefrontal cortex in the process of integrating elementary features into a holistic global percept, when the elements do not form a "pop-out" display.

Tozzi, A., Morrone, M. C. & Burr, D. C. (2007). The effect of optokinetic nystagmus on the perceived position of briefly flashed targets,Vision Res, 6 (47), 861-868. PDF

Stimuli flashed briefly around the time of an impending saccade are mislocalized in the direction of the saccade and also compressed towards the saccadic target. Similarly, targets flashed during pursuit eye movements are mislocalized in the direction of pursuit. Here, we investigate the effects of optokinetic nystagmus (OKN) on visual localization. Subjects passively viewed a wide-field drifting grating that elicited strong OKN, comprising the characteristic slow-phase tracking movement interspersed with corrected "saccade-like" fast-phase movements. Subjects reported the apparent position of salient bars flashed briefly at various positions on the screen. In general, bars were misperceived in the direction of the slow-phase tracking movement. Bars flashed around the onset of the fast-phase movements were subject to much less mislocalization, pointing to a competing shift in the direction of the fast-phase, as occurs with saccades. However, as distinct from saccades, there was no evidence for spatial compression around the time of the corrective fast-phase OKN. The results suggest that OKN cause perceptual mislocalizations similar to those of smooth pursuit and saccades, but there are some differences in the nature of the mislocalizations, pointing to different perceptual mechanisms associated with the different types of eye movements.

Perna, A. & Morrone, M. C. (2007). The lowest spatial frequency channel determines brightness perception,Vision Res, 10 (47), 1282-1291. PDF

This study investigates the role played by individual spatial scales in determining the apparent brightness of greyscale patterns. We measured the perceived difference in brightness across an edge in the presence of notch filtering and high-pass filtering for two stimulus configurations, one that elicits the perception of transparency and one that appears opaque. For both stimulus configurations, the apparent brightness of the surfaces delimited by the border decreased monotonically with progressive (ideal) high-pass filtering, with a critical cut-off at 1 c/deg. Using two octave ideal notch filtering, the maximum detrimental effect on apparent brightness was observed at about 1c/deg. Critical frequencies for apparent brightness did not vary with contrast, viewing distance, or surface size, suggesting that apparent brightness is determined by the channel tuned at 1 c/deg. Modelling the data with the local energy model [Morrone, M. C., & Burr, D. C. (1988). Feature detection in human vision: a phase dependent energy model. Proceedings of the Royal Society (London), B235, 221-245] at 1c/deg confirmed the suggestion that this channel mediates apparent brightness for both opaque and transparent borders, with no need for pooling or integration across spatial channels.

Chirimuuta, M., Burr, D. & Morrone, M. C. (2007). The role of perceptual learning on modality-specific visual attentional effects,Vision Res, 1 (47), 60-70. PDF

Morrone et al. [Morrone, M. C., Denti, V., & Spinelli, D. (2002). Color and luminance contrasts attract independent attention. Current Biology, 12, 1134-1137] reported that the detrimental effect on contrast discrimination thresholds of performing a concomitant task is modality specific: performing a secondary luminance task has no effect on colour contrast thresholds, and vice versa. Here we confirm this result with a novel task involving learning of spatial position, and go on to show that it is not specific to the cardinal colour axes: secondary tasks with red-green stimuli impede performance on a blue-yellow task and vice versa. We further show that the attentional effect can be abolished with continued training over 2-4 training days (2-20 training sessions), and that the effect of learning is transferable to new target positions. Given the finding of transference, we discuss the possibility that V4 is a site of plasticity for both stimulus types, and that the separation is due to a luminance-colour separation within this cortical area.



2006 (back to top)

Cicchini, G. M. & Kristjànsson, A. (2015). On the Possibility of a Unifying Framework for Serial Dependencies, i-Perception, 6(6) 1–16. PDF

erial effects in perception have been studied since the dawn of psychophysics. Color aftereffects greatly advanced the understanding of color vision in the 19th century, and motion aftereffects have intrigued perceptual scientists for centuries. Recent discoveries in visual attention and psychophysics have intensifed interest in such effects. The current consensus is that they are not curiosities but serve an important function and can be critical for understanding perception.
The current article summarizes the contributions to a recent conference (SFX 2014, Pisa, Italy) and underscores the idea that the brain has learned how to exploit temporal regularities in the environment.

Del Viva, M. M. & Morrone, M. C. (2006). A feature-tracking model simulates the motion direction bias induced by phase congruency,J Vis, 3 (6), 179-195. PDF

Here we report a new motion illusion where the prevailing motion direction is strongly influenced by the relative phase of the harmonic components of the stimulus. The basic stimulus is the sum of three sinusoidal contrast-reversing gratings: the first, the third, and the fifth harmonic of two square wave gratings that drift in opposite direction. The phase of one of the fifth components was kept constant at 180 deg, whereas the phase of the other fifth harmonic was varied over the range 0-150 deg. For each phase value of the fifth harmonic, the motion was strongly biased toward its direction, corresponding to the direction with stronger phase congruency between the three harmonics. The strength of the prevailing motion was assessed by measuring motion direction discrimination thresholds, by varying the contrast of the third and the fifth harmonics plaid pattern. Results show that the contrast of high harmonics had to be increased by more than a factor of 10, to achieve a balance of motion for phase differences greater than 60 deg between the 2 fifth harmonics. We also measured the dependence on the absolute phase of harmonic components and found that it is not an important parameter, excluding the possibility that local luminance cues could be mediating the effect. A feature-tracking model based on previous work is proposed to simulate the data. The model computes local energy function from a pair of space-time separable front stage filters and applies a battery of directional second stage mechanisms. It is able to simulate quantitatively the phase congruency dependence illusion and the insensitivity to overall phase. Other energy models based on directional filters fail to simulate the phase congruency dependency effect.

Baranello, G., Rando, T., Bancale, A., D'Acunto, M. G., Epifanio, R., Frisone, M. F., et al. (2006). Auditory attention at the onset of West syndrome: correlation with EEG patterns and visual function,Brain Dev, 5 (28), 293-299. PDF

At the onset of West syndrome a specific impairment of visual function has been clearly demonstrated, while other aspects of sensorial development, and in particular of the auditory function, have been less studied. The aim of this study was to evaluate auditory function and orienting responses at the onset of West syndrome, and to relate the results with EEG patterns, visual function and neurodevelopmental competence. A prospective multicentric study was performed on 25 successively enrolled infants with West syndrome; all the patients underwent a full clinical assessment, including MRI and video-EEG, visual function and auditory orienting responses (AORs) as well as Griffiths' developmental scales. The whole assessment performed at the onset of spasms (T0) was repeated after two months (T1). AORs resulted significantly impaired both at T0 and T1. At the onset of spasms a highly significant relationship of auditory attention with visual function and neurodevelopmental competence was shown in both cryptogenic and symptomatic forms, but it was no longer present after two months. Our results may suggest a possible pervasive effect of the epileptic disorder on sensory processing, associated to a deficit of neurodevelopment. Although we failed to show a significant correlation between auditory orienting responses and EEG patterns, some evidence seems to support at least partially an influence of the epileptic disorder per se on the genesis of the sensorial impairment. A longer follow up and a larger cohort will be useful for a better clarification of these findings.

Burr, D. & Alais, D. (2006). Combining visual and auditory information,Prog Brain Res, (155), 243-258. PDF

Robust perception requires that information from by our five different senses be combined at some central level to produce a single unified percept of the world. Recent theory and evidence from many laboratories suggests that the combination does not occur in a rigid, hardwired fashion, but follows flexible situation-dependent rules that allow information to be combined with maximal efficiency. In this review we discuss recent evidence from our laboratories investigating how information from auditory and visual modalities is combined. The results support the notion of Bayesian combination. We also examine temporal alignment of auditory and visual signals, and show that perceived simultaneity does not depend solely on neural latencies, but involves active processes that compensate, for example, for the physical delay introduced by the relatively slow speed of sound. Finally, we go on to show that although visual and auditory information is combined to maximize efficiency, attentional resources for the two modalities are largely independent.

Alais, D., Lorenceau, J., Arrighi, R. & Cass, J. (2006). Contour interactions between pairs of Gabors engaged in binocular rivalry reveal a map of the association field,Vision Res, 8-9 (46), 1473-1487. PDF

A psychophysical study was conducted to investigate contour interactions (the 'association field'). Two Gabor patches were presented to one eye, with random-dot patches in corresponding locations of the other eye so as to produce binocular rivalry. Perceptual alternations of the two rivalry processes were monitored continuously by observers and the two time series were cross-correlated. The Gabors were oriented collinearly, obliquely, or orthogonally, and spatial separation was varied. A parallel condition was also included. Correlation between the rivalry processes strongly depended on separation and relative orientation. Correlations between adjacent collinear Gabors was near-perfect and reduced with spatial separation and as relative orientation departed from collinear. Importantly, variations in cross-correlation did not alter the rivalry processes (average dominance duration, and therefore alternation rate, was constant across conditions). Instead, synchronisation of rivalry oscillations accounts for the correlation variations: rivalry alternations were highly synchronised when contour interactions were strong and were poorly synchronised when contour interactions were weak. The level of synchrony between these two stochastic processes, in depending on separation and relative orientation, effectively reveals a map of the association field. These association fields are not greatly affected by contrast, and can be demonstrated between contours that are presented to separate hemispheres.

Bruno, A., Brambati, S. M., Perani, D. & Morrone, M. C. (2006). Development of saccadic suppression in children,J Neurophysiol, 3 (96), 1011-1017. PDF

We measured saccadic suppression in adolescent children and young adults using spatially curtailed low spatial frequency stimuli. For both groups, sensitivity for color-modulated stimuli was unchanged during saccades. Sensitivity for luminance-modulated stimuli was greatly reduced during saccades in both groups but far more for adolescents than for young adults. Adults' suppression was on average a factor of about 3, whereas that for the adolescent group was closer to a factor of 10. The specificity of the suppression to luminance-modulated stimuli excludes generic explanations such as task difficulty and attention. We suggest that the enhanced suppression in adolescents results from the immaturity of the ocular-motor system at that age.

Burr, D. & Morrone, C. (2006). Perception: transient disruptions to neural space-time,Curr Biol, 19 (16), R847-849. PDF

How vision operates efficiently in the face of continuous shifts of gaze remains poorly understood. Recent studies show that saccades cause dramatic, but transient, changes in the spatial and also temporal tuning of cells in many visual areas, which may underly the perceptual compression of space and time, and serve to counteract the effects of the saccades and maintain visual stability.

Arrighi, R., Alais, D. & Burr, D. (2006). Perceptual synchrony of audiovisual streams for natural and artificial motion sequences,J Vis, 3 (6), 260-268. PDF

We investigated the conditions necessary for perceptual simultaneity of visual and auditory stimuli under natural conditions: video sequences of conga drumming at various rhythms. Under most conditions, the auditory stream needs to be delayed for sight and sound to be perceived simultaneously. The size of delay for maximum perceived simultaneity varied inversely with drumming tempo, from about 100 ms at 1 Hz to 30 ms at 4 Hz. Random drumming motion produced similar results, with higher random tempos requiring less delay. Video sequences of disk stimuli moving along a motion profile matched to the drummer produced near-identical results. When the disks oscillated at constant speed rather than following "biological" speed variations, the delays necessary for perceptual synchrony were systematically less. The results are discussed in terms of real-world constraints for perceptual synchrony and possible neural mechanisms.

Burr, D., McKee, S. & Morrone, C. M. (2006). Resolution for spatial segregation and spatial localization by motion signals,Vision Res, 6-7 (46), 932-939. PDF

We investigated two types of spatial resolution for perceiving motion-defined contours: grating acuity, the capacity to discriminate alternating stripes of opposed motion from transparent bi-directional motion; and alignment acuity, the capacity to localize the position of motion-defined edges with respect to stationary markers. For both tasks the stimuli were random noise patterns, low-pass filtered in the spatial dimension parallel to the motion. Both grating and alignment resolution varied systematically with spatial frequency cutoff and speed. Best performance for grating resolution was about 10 c/deg (for unfiltered patterns moving at 1-4 deg/s), corresponding to a stripe resolution of about 3'. Grating resolution corresponds well to estimates of smallest receptive field size of motion units under these conditions, suggesting that opposing signals from units with small receptive fields (probably located in V1) are contrasted efficiently to define edges. Alignment resolution was about 2' at best, under similar conditions. Whereas alignment judgment based on luminance-defined edges is typically 3-10 times better than resolution, alignment based on motion-defined edges is only 1.1-1.5 times better, suggesting motion contours are less effectively encoded than luminance contours.

Alais, D., Morrone, C. & Burr, D. (2006). Separate attentional resources for vision and audition,Proc Biol Sci, 1592 (273), 1339-1345. PDF

Current models of attention, typically claim that vision and audition are limited by a common attentional resource which means that visual performance should be adversely affected by a concurrent auditory task and vice versa. Here, we test this implication by measuring auditory (pitch) and visual (contrast) thresholds in conjunction with cross-modal secondary tasks and find that no such interference occurs. Visual contrast discrimination thresholds were unaffected by a concurrent chord or pitch discrimination, and pitch-discrimination thresholds were virtually unaffected by a concurrent visual search or contrast discrimination task. However, if the dual tasks were presented within the same modality, thresholds were raised by a factor of between two (for visual discrimination) and four (for auditory discrimination). These results suggest that at least for low-level tasks such as discriminations of pitch and contrast, each sensory modality is under separate attentional control, rather than being limited by a supramodal attentional resource. This has implications for current theories of attention as well as for the use of multi-sensory media for efficient informational transmission.

Burr, D. & Ross, J. (2006). The effects of opposite-polarity dipoles on the detection of Glass patterns,Vision Res, 6-7 (46), 1139-1144. PDF

Glass patterns--randomly positioned coherently orientated dipoles--create a strong sensation of oriented spatial structure. On the other hand, coherently oriented dipoles comprising dots of opposite polarity ("anti-Glass" patterns) have no distinct spatial structure and are very hard to distinguish from random noise. Although anti-Glass patterns have no obvious spatial structure themselves, their presence can destroy the structure created by Glass patterns. We measured the strength of this effect for both static and dynamic Glass patterns, and showed that anti-Glass patterns can raise thresholds for Glass patterns by a factor of 2-4, increasing with density. The dependence on density suggests that the interactions occur at a local level. When the Glass and anti-Glass dipoles were confined to alternate strips (in translational and circular Glass patterns), the detrimental effect occurred for stripe widths less than about 1.5 degrees, but had little effect for larger stripe widths, reinforcing the suggestion that the interaction occurred over a limited spatial extent. The extent of spatial interaction was much less than that for spatial summation of these patterns, at least 30 degrees under matched experimental conditions. The results suggest two stages of analysis for Glass patterns, an early stage of limited spatial extent where orientation is extracted, and a later stage that sums these orientation signals.

Burr, D. & Morrone, C. (2006). Time perception: space-time in the brain,Curr Biol, 5 (16), R171-173. PDF

Baldassi, S., Megna, N. & Burr, D. C. (2006). Visual clutter causes high-magnitude errors,PLoS Biol, 3 (4), e56. PDF

Perceptual decisions are often made in cluttered environments, where a target may be confounded with competing "distractor" stimuli. Although many studies and theoretical treatments have highlighted the effect of distractors on performance, it remains unclear how they affect the quality of perceptual decisions. Here we show that perceptual clutter leads not only to an increase in judgment errors, but also to an increase in perceived signal strength and decision confidence on erroneous trials. Observers reported simultaneously the direction and magnitude of the tilt of a target grating presented either alone, or together with vertical distractor stimuli. When presented in isolation, observers perceived isolated targets as only slightly tilted on error trials, and had little confidence in their decision. When the target was embedded in distractors, however, they perceived it to be strongly tilted on error trials, and had high confidence of their (erroneous) decisions. The results are well explained by assuming that the observers' internal representation of stimulus orientation arises from a nonlinear combination of the outputs of independent noise-perturbed front-end detectors. The implication that erroneous perceptual decisions in cluttered environments are made with high confidence has many potential practical consequences, and may be extendable to decision-making in general.



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