Attention model of binocular rivalry

Hsin Hung Li, James Rankin, John Rinzel, Marisa Carrasco, David J. Heeger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


When the corresponding retinal locations in the two eyes are presented with incompatible images, a stable percept gives way to perceptual alternations in which the two images compete for perceptual dominance. As perceptual experience evolves dynamically under constant external inputs, binocular rivalry has been used for studying intrinsic cortical computations and for understanding how the brain regulates competing inputs. Converging behavioral and EEG results have shown that binocular rivalry and attention are intertwined: binocular rivalry ceases when attention is diverted away from the rivalry stimuli. In addition, the competing image in one eye suppresses the target in the other eye through a pattern of gain changes similar to those induced by attention. These results require a revision of the current computational theories of binocular rivalry, in which the role of attention is ignored. Here, we provide a computational model of binocular rivalry. In the model, competition between two images in rivalry is driven by both attentional modulation and mutual inhibition, which have distinct selectivity (feature vs. eye of origin) and dynamics (relatively slow vs. relatively fast). The proposed model explains a wide range of phenomena reported in rivalry, including the three hallmarks: (i) binocular rivalry requires attention; (ii) various perceptual states emerge when the two images are swapped between the eyes multiple times per second; (iii) the dominance duration as a function of input strength follows Levelt’s propositions. With a bifurcation analysis, we identified the parameter space in which the model’s behavior was consistent with experimental results.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E6192-E6201
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number30
StatePublished - Jul 25 2017


  • Binocular rivalry
  • Bistable perception
  • Computational model
  • Dynamical system
  • Visual attention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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