Theory and Dynamics of Perceptual Bistability

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 19 (NIPS 2006)

Bibtex Metadata Paper


Paul R. Schrater, Rashmi Sundareswara


Perceptual Bistability refers to the phenomenon of spontaneously switching between two or more interpretations of an image under continuous viewing. Although switching behavior is increasingly well characterized, the origins remain elusive. We propose that perceptual switching naturally arises from the brain's search for best interpretations while performing Bayesian inference. In particular, we propose that the brain explores a posterior distribution over image interpretations at a rapid time scale via a sampling-like process and updates its interpretation when a sampled interpretation is better than the discounted value of its current interpretation. We formalize the theory, explicitly derive switching rate distributions and discuss qualitative properties of the theory including the effect of changes in the posterior distribution on switching rates. Finally, predictions of the theory are shown to be consistent with measured changes in human switching dynamics to Necker cube stimuli induced by context.