Binocular Rivalry: A Window into Cortical Competition and Suppression

Ruyuan Zhang, Stephen A. Engel, Kendrick Kay


When the two eyes view very dissimilar images, the visual
system often fails to combine the images and one experiences stochastically
alternating percepts. This phenomenon, called binocular rivalry,
has fascinated researchers for centuries since it provides insights into
two critical aspects of visual perception: visual consciousness and
cortical suppression. Here, we review the mechanisms of binocular
rivalry from a cognitive neuroscience perspective, focusing on empirical
findings from two widely used methods—functional magnetic resonance
imaging (fMRI) and electroencephalography (EEG). With these
techniques, researchers have been able to identify the cortical sites
of suppression in binocular rivalry, probe neural responses evoked by
unconscious (invisible) visual stimuli, and examine the role of top-down
attentional signals in rivalry. We conclude by proposing some future
directions for the study of binocular rivalry.

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