Short-Term Monocular Deprivation Enhances Physiological Pupillary Oscillations, Neural Plast, (2017), 6724631.

Short-term monocular deprivation alters visual perception in adult humans, increasing the dominance of the deprived eye, for example, as measured with binocular rivalry. This form of plasticity may depend upon the inhibition/excitation balance in the visual cortex. Recent work suggests that cortical excitability is reliably tracked by dilations and constrictions of the pupils of the eyes. Here, we ask whether monocular deprivation produces a systematic change of pupil behavior, as measured at rest, that is independent of the change of visual perception. During periods of minimal sensory stimulation (in the dark) and task requirements (minimizing body and gaze movements), slow pupil oscillations, “hippus,” spontaneously appear. We find that hippus amplitude increases after monocular deprivation, with larger hippus changes in participants showing larger ocular dominance changes (measured by binocular rivalry). This tight correlation suggests that a single latent variable explains both the change of ocular dominance and hippus. We speculate that the neurotransmitter norepinephrine may be implicated in this phenomenon, given its important role in both plasticity and pupil control. On the practical side, our results indicate that measuring the pupil hippus (a simple and short procedure) provides a sensitive index of the change of ocular dominance induced by short-term monocular deprivation, hence a proxy for plasticity.

Binocular rivalry in children on the autism spectrum, Autism Res,

When different images are presented to the eyes, the brain is faced with ambiguity, causing perceptual bistability: visual perception continuously alternates between the monocular images, a phenomenon called binocular rivalry. Many models of rivalry suggest that its temporal dynamics depend on mutual inhibition among neurons representing competing images. These models predict that rivalry should be different in autism, which has been proposed to present an atypical ratio of excitation and inhibition [the E/I imbalance hypothesis; Rubenstein & Merzenich, 2003]. In line with this prediction, some recent studies have provided evidence for atypical binocular rivalry dynamics in autistic adults. In this study, we examined if these findings generalize to autistic children. We developed a child-friendly binocular rivalry paradigm, which included two types of stimuli, low- and high-complexity, and compared rivalry dynamics in groups of autistic and age- and intellectual ability-matched typical children. Unexpectedly, the two groups of children presented the same number of perceptual transitions and the same mean phase durations (times perceiving one of the two stimuli). Yet autistic children reported mixed percepts for a shorter proportion of time (a difference which was in the opposite direction to previous adult studies), while elevated autistic symptomatology was associated with shorter mixed perception periods. Rivalry in the two groups was affected similarly by stimulus type, and consistent with previous findings. Our results suggest that rivalry dynamics are differentially affected in adults and developing autistic children and could be accounted for by hierarchical models of binocular rivalry, including both inhibition and top-down influences.

Touch Accelerates Visual Awareness, Iperception, 1 (8), 2041669516686986.

To efficiently interact with the external environment, our nervous system combines information arising from different sensory modalities. Recent evidence suggests that cross-modal interactions can be automatic and even unconscious, reflecting the ecological relevance of cross-modal processing. Here, we use continuous flash suppression (CFS) to directly investigate whether haptic signals can interact with visual signals outside of visual awareness. We measured suppression durations of visual gratings rendered invisible by CFS either during visual stimulation alone or during visuo-haptic stimulation. We found that active exploration of a haptic grating congruent in orientation with the suppressed visual grating reduced suppression durations both compared with visual-only stimulation and to incongruent visuo-haptic stimulation. We also found that the facilitatory effect of touch on visual suppression disappeared when the visual and haptic gratings were mismatched in either spatial frequency or orientation. Together, these results demonstrate that congruent touch can accelerate the rise to consciousness of a suppressed visual stimulus and that this unconscious cross-modal interaction depends on visuo-haptic congruency. Furthermore, since CFS suppression is thought to occur early in visual cortical processing, our data reinforce the evidence suggesting that visuo-haptic interactions can occur at the earliest stages of cortical processing.

Consciousness is more than meets the eye: a call for a multisensory study of subjective experience, Neuroscience of Consciousness, 1-8.

Over the last 30 years, our understanding of the neurocognitive bases of consciousness has improved, mostly through studies employing vision. While studying consciousness in the visual modality presents clear advantages, we believe that a comprehensive scientific account of subjective experience must not neglect other exteroceptive and interoceptive signals as well as the role of multisensory interactions for perceptual and self-consciousness. Here, we briefly review four distinct lines of work which converge in documenting how multisensory signals are processed across several levels and contents of consciousness. Namely, how multisensory interactions occur when consciousness is prevented because of perceptual manipulations (i.e. subliminal stimuli) or because of low vigilance states (i.e. sleep, anesthesia), how interactions between exteroceptive and interoceptive signals give rise to bodily self-consciousness, and how multisensory signals are combined to form metacognitive judgments. By describing the interactions between multisensory signals at the perceptual, cognitive, and metacognitive levels, we illustrate how stepping out the visual comfort zone may help in deriving refined accounts of consciousness, and may allow cancelling out idiosyncrasies of each sense to delineate supramodal mechanisms involved during consciousness.