Feedback information transfer in the human brain reflects bistable perception in the absence of report.
In the search for the neural basis of conscious experience, perception and the cognitive processes associated with reporting perception are typically confounded as neural activity is recorded while participants explicitly report what they experience. Here, we present a novel way to disentangle perception from report using eye movement analysis techniques based on convolutional neural networks and neurodynamical analyses based on information theory. We use a bistable visual stimulus that instantiates two well-known properties of conscious perception: integration and differentiation. At any given moment, observers either perceive the stimulus as one integrated unitary object or as two differentiated objects that are clearly distinct from each other. Using electroencephalography, we show that measures of integration and differentiation based on information theory closely follow participants' perceptual experience of those contents when switches were reported. We observed increased information integration between anterior to posterior electrodes (front to back) prior to a switch to the integrated percept, and higher information differentiation of anterior signals leading up to reporting the differentiated percept. Crucially, information integration was closely linked to perception and even observed in a no-report condition when perceptual transitions were inferred from eye movements alone. In contrast, the link between neural differentiation and perception was observed solely in the active report condition. Our results, therefore, suggest that perception and the processes associated with report require distinct amounts of anterior-posterior network communication and anterior information differentiation. While front-to-back directed information is associated with changes in the content of perception when viewing bistable visual stimuli, regardless of report, frontal information differentiation was absent in the no-report condition and therefore is not directly linked to perception per se.
Acknowledgements: We thank Dr. William J. Harrison, Dr. Maartje de Jong, Dr. William Gilpin, Dr. Martin Vinck, and Dr. Tomas Knapen for contributing to valuable discussions and insights and proofreading the manuscript.
H2020 European Research Council (ERC STG 715605)
Fundação Bial (Call 2020/2021)