Perceptual systems must create discrete objects and events out of a continuous flow of sensory information. Previous studies have demonstrated oscillatory effects in the behavioral outcome of low-level visual tasks, suggesting a cyclic nature of visual processing as the solution. To investigate whether these effects extend to more complex tasks, a stream of 'neutral' photographic images (not containing targets) was rapidly presented (20 ms/image). Embedded were one or two presentations of a randomly selected target image (vehicles and animals). Subjects reported the perceived target category. On dual-presentation trials, the ISI varied systematically from 0 to 600 ms. At randomized timing before first target presentation, the screen was flashed with the intent of creating a phase reset in the visual system. Sorting trials by temporal distance between flash and first target presentation revealed strong oscillations in behavioral performance, peaking at 5 Hz. On dual-target trials, longer ISIs led to reduced performance, implying a temporal integration window for object category discrimination. The 'animal' trials exhibited a significant oscillatory component around 5 Hz. Our results indicate that oscillatory effects are not mere fringe effects relevant only with simple stimuli, but are resultant from the core mechanisms of visual processing and may well extend into real-life scenarios.
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