Spatio-temporal low-level neural networks account for visual masking

Uri Polat, Anna Sterkin, Oren Yehezkel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Temporal masking is a paradigm that is widely used to study visual information processing. When a mask is presented, typically within less than 100 msec before or after the target, the response to the target is reduced. The results of our psychophysical and visual evoked potential (VEP) experiments show that the masking effect critically depends on a combination of several factors: (1) the processing time of the target, (2) the order of presentation of the target and the mask, and (3) the spatial arrangement of the target and the mask. Thus, the masking effect depends on the spatial-temporal combination of these factors. Suppression was observed when the mask was positioned within a spatial range that was found to evoke inhibition, and when the temporal separation between the target and the mask was short. In contrast, lateral facilitation was observed when the mask was presented at a spatial separation that did not evoke inhibition from the target's vicinity and with a temporal sequence that preceded the target, or when it was presented simultaneously with it, but not when the target preceded the mask. We propose that masking effects, either suppression or facilitation, reflect integration into the spatial and the temporal domains of the feedforward response to the target and the lateral inputs evoked by the mask (excitatory and/or inhibitory). Because the excitation evoked by the mask develops and propagates slowly from the mask's location to the target's location, it lags behind the response to the target. On the other hand, inhibition that is produced in the vicinity of the target evolves more rapidly and follows the onset and offset of the stimulus more closely. Thus, lateral excitation that overcomes the inhibition may facilitate the grouping of local elements into a global percept by increasing the survivability of the object and its accessibility for perceptual awareness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)153-165
Number of pages13
JournalAdvances in Cognitive Psychology
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - 15 Jul 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Psychophysics
  • Spatio-temporal interactions
  • Temporal masking
  • Temporal processing
  • Visual evoked potentials
  • Visual masking


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