A dual role of prestimulus spontaneous neural activity in visual object recognition

Ella Podvalny, Matthew W. Flounders, Leana E. King, Tom Holroyd, Biyu J. He

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47 Scopus citations


Vision relies on both specific knowledge of visual attributes, such as object categories, and general brain states, such as those reflecting arousal. We hypothesized that these phenomena independently influence recognition of forthcoming stimuli through distinct processes reflected in spontaneous neural activity. Here, we recorded magnetoencephalographic (MEG) activity in participants (N = 24) who viewed images of objects presented at recognition threshold. Using multivariate analysis applied to sensor-level activity patterns recorded before stimulus presentation, we identified two neural processes influencing subsequent subjective recognition: a general process, which disregards stimulus category and correlates with pupil size, and a specific process, which facilitates category-specific recognition. The two processes are doubly-dissociable: the general process correlates with changes in criterion but not in sensitivity, whereas the specific process correlates with changes in sensitivity but not in criterion. Our findings reveal distinct mechanisms of how spontaneous neural activity influences perception and provide a framework to integrate previous findings.

Original languageEnglish
Article number3910
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2 Sep 2019
Externally publishedYes

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© 2019, The Author(s).


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