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Lorenz Meier, Matteo Carandini; Masking by fast gratings. Journal of Vision 2002;2(4):2. doi: 10.1167/2.4.2.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
Perception of an oriented pattern is impaired in the presence of a superimposed orthogonal mask. This masking effect most likely arises in visual cortex, where neuronal responses are suppressed by masks having a broad range of orientations. Response suppression is commonly ascribed to lateral inhibition between cortical neurons. Recent physiological results, however, have cast doubt on this view: powerful suppression has been observed with masks drifting too rapidly to elicit much of a response in cortex. We show here that the same is true for perceptual masking. From contrast discrimination thresholds, we estimated the cortical response to drifting patterns of various frequencies, and found it greatly reduced above 15–20 Hz. In the same subjects, we measured the strength of masking by the same patterns and found it equally strong for masks drifting slowly (2.7 Hz) as for masks drifting rapidly (27–38 Hz). Fast gratings thus cause strong masking while eliciting weak cortical responses. Our results might be explained by inhibition from cortical neurons that respond to unusually high frequencies, and yet do not make their signals fully available for perceptual judgments. A more parsimonious explanation, however, is that masking does not involve lateral inhibition from cortex. Masking might operate in retina or thalamus, which respond to much higher frequencies than cortex. Masking might also be due to thalamic signals to cortex, perhaps through depression at thalamocortical synapses.
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