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date: 30 March 2023

Multistable Perceptionlocked

Multistable Perceptionlocked

  • Alexander PastukhovAlexander PastukhovUniversity of Bamberg


Multistable perception is produced by stimuli that are consistent with two or more different comparably likely perceptual interpretations. After the initial perception is resolved in favor of one of the interpretations, continued viewing leads to fluctuating subjective experience, as perception spontaneously switches between alternative states. Multistable perception occurs for different modalities, including visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory perception and proprioception, and various conflicting sensory representations, such as eye dominance, depth, motion, or meaning. Despite large differences, multistable stimuli produce quantitatively similar perceptual experience with stereotypical distribution of durations of dominance phases, similar dependence on the absolute and relative strength of competing perceptual interpretations, prior perceptual history, presentation method, attention, and volitional control, and so on. Taken together, this shows that multistable perception reflects the action of general canonical perceptual mechanisms whose purpose is to resolve the conflicting evidence and ensure a single dominant perception that can be used for action. Thus, it informs us about mechanisms of perceptual decision making, including the importance of feedback mechanisms in resolving perceptual ambiguity and the role of parietal and frontal regions in facilitating changes in perception. Multistable perception provides useful constraints for models, inspiring a plethora of models of perception that combine neurally plausible mechanisms, such as neural adaptation and inhibition, or are based on the idea of predictive coding. The sensitive nature of multistable perception makes a valuable experimental tool that can reveal even minor differences due to low- or high-level influences, including genetic or clinical cases. As such, it is an important tool in studying neural and behavioral correlates of consciousness as it dissociates perception from the stimulus.


  • Cognitive Psychology/Neuroscience

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