Willpower and conscious percept: Volitional switching in binocular rivalry Academic Article uri icon


  • When dissimilar images are presented to the left and right eyes, awareness switches spontaneously between the two images, such that one of the images is suppressed from awareness while the other is perceptually dominant. For over 170 years, it has been accepted that even though the periods of dominance are subject to attentional processes, we have no inherent control over perceptual switching. Here, we revisit this issue in response to evidence that top-down attention can target perceptually suppressed 'vision for action' representations in the dorsal stream. We investigated volitional control over rivalry between apparent motion (AM), drifting (DM) and stationary (ST) grating pairs. Observers demonstrated a remarkable ability to generate intentional switches in the AM and D conditions, but not in the ST condition. Corresponding switches in the pursuit direction of optokinetic nystagmus verified this finding objectively. We showed it is unlikely that intentional perceptual switches were triggered by saccadic eye movements, because their frequency was reduced substantially in the volitional condition and did not change around the time of perceptual switches. Hence, we propose that synergy between dorsal and ventral stream representations provides the missing link in establishing volitional control over rivalrous conscious percepts.

publication date

  • April 1, 2012