Entrainment to video displays in primary visual cortex of macaque and humans

Patrick E. Williams, Ferenc Mechler, James Gordon, Robert Shapley, Michael J. Hawken

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cathode ray tubes (CRTs) display images refreshed at high frequency, and the temporal waveform of each pixel is a luminance impulse only a few milliseconds long. Although humans are perceptually oblivious to this flicker, we show in V1 in macaque monkeys and in humans that extracellularly recorded action potentials (spikes) and visual-evoked potentials (VEPs) align with the video impulses, particularly when high-contrast stimuli are viewed. Of 91 single units analyzed in macaque with a 60 Hz video refresh, 29 cells (32%) significantly locked their firing to a uniform luminance display, but their number increased to 75 (82%) when high-contrast stimuli were shown. Of 92 cells exposed to a 100 Hz refresh, 21 (23%) significantly phase locked to high-contrast stimuli. Phase locking occurred in both input and output layers of V1 for simple and complex cells, regardless of preferred temporal frequency. VEPs recorded in humans showed significant phase locking to the video refresh in all seven observers. Like the monkey neurons, human VEPs more typically phase locked to stimuli containing spatial contrast than to spatially uniform stimuli. Phase locking decreased when the refresh rate was increased. Thus in humans and macaques phase locking to the high strobe frequency of a CRT is enhanced by a salient spatial pattern, although the perceptual impact is uncertain. We note that a billion people worldwide manage to watch TV without obvious distortion of their visual perception despite extraordinary phase locking of their V1s to a 50 or 60 Hz signal.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8278-8288
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number38
StatePublished - Sep 22 2004


  • Contrast
  • Entrainment
  • Temporal coding
  • V1 cortex
  • VEP
  • Video displays

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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