Touch Interacts with Vision during Binocular Rivalry with a Tight Orientation Tuning,PLoS One, 3 (8), e58754.
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.