Binding Mechanisms in Visual Perception and Their Link With Neural Oscillations: A Review of Evidence From tACS

Andrea Ghiani, Marcello Maniglia, Luca Battaglini, David Melcher, Luca Ronconi

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

Abstract

Neurophysiological studies in humans employing magneto- (MEG) and electro- (EEG) encephalography increasingly suggest that oscillatory rhythmic activity of the brain may be a core mechanism for binding sensory information across space, time, and object features to generate a unified perceptual representation. To distinguish whether oscillatory activity is causally related to binding processes or whether, on the contrary, it is a mere epiphenomenon, one possibility is to employ neuromodulatory techniques such as transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS). tACS has seen a rising interest due to its ability to modulate brain oscillations in a frequency-dependent manner. In the present review, we critically summarize current tACS evidence for a causal role of oscillatory activity in spatial, temporal, and feature binding in the context of visual perception. For temporal binding, the emerging picture supports a causal link with the power and the frequency of occipital alpha rhythms (8–12 Hz); however, there is no consistent evidence on the causal role of the phase of occipital tACS. For feature binding, the only study available showed a modulation by occipital alpha tACS. The majority of studies that successfully modulated oscillatory activity and behavioral performance in spatial binding targeted parietal areas, with the main rhythms causally linked being the theta (~7 Hz) and beta (~18 Hz) frequency bands. On the other hand, spatio-temporal binding has been directly modulated by parieto-occipital gamma (~40–60 Hz) and alpha (10 Hz) tACS, suggesting a potential role of cross-frequency coupling when binding across space and time. Nonetheless, negative or partial results have also been observed, suggesting methodological limitations that should be addressed in future research. Overall, the emerging picture seems to support a causal role of brain oscillations in binding processes and, consequently, a certain degree of plasticity for shaping binding mechanisms in visual perception, which, if proved to have long lasting effects, can find applications in different clinical populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number643677
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Volume12
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 22 2021

Keywords

  • brain oscillations
  • feature binding
  • spatial binding
  • tACS
  • temporal binding

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)

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