On the functional relevance of frontal cortex for passive and voluntarily controlled bistable vision

T.A. de Graaf*, M.C. Jong, R. Goebel, R. van Ee, A.T. Sack

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


In bistable vision, one constant ambiguous stimulus leads to 2 alternating conscious percepts. This perceptual switching occurs spontaneously but can also be influenced through voluntary control. Neuroimaging studies have reported that frontal regions are activated during spontaneous perceptual switches, leading some researchers to suggest that frontal regions causally induce perceptual switches. But the opposite also seems possible: frontal activations may themselves be caused by spontaneous switches. Classically implicated in attentional processes, these same regions are also candidates for the origins of voluntary control over bistable vision. Here too, it remains unknown whether frontal cortex is actually functionally relevant. It is even possible that spontaneous perceptual switches and voluntarily induced switches are mediated by the same top-down mechanisms. To directly address these issues, we here induced "virtual lesions," with transcranial magnetic stimulation, in frontal, parietal, and 2 lower level visual cortices using an established ambiguous structure-from-motion stimulus. We found that dorsolateral prefrontal cortex was causally relevant for voluntary control over perceptual switches. In contrast, we failed to find any evidence for an active role of frontal cortex in passive bistable vision. Thus, it seems the same pathway used for willed top-down modulation of bistable vision is not used during passive bistable viewing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2322-2331
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2011


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