Spatiotemporal context in sensory stimulus has profound effects on neural responses and perception, and it sometimes affects task difficulty. Recently reported experimental data suggest that human detection sensitivity to motion in a target stimulus can be enhanced by adding a slow surrounding motion in an orthogonal direction, even though the illusory motion component caused by the surround is not relevant to the task. It is not computationally clear how the task-irrelevant component of motion modulates the subject's sensitivity to motion detection. In this study, we investigated the effects of encoding biases on detection performance by modeling the stochastic neural population activities. We modeled two types of modulation on the population activity profiles caused by a contextual stimulus: one type is identical to the activity evoked by a physical change in the stimulus, and the other is expressed more simply in terms of response gain modulation. For both encoding schemes, the motion detection performance of the ideal observer is enhanced by a task-irrelevant, additive motion component, replicating the properties observed for real subjects. The success of these models suggests that human detection sensitivity can be characterized by a noisy neural encoding that limits the resolution of information transmission in the cortical visual processing pathway. On the other hand, analyses of the neuronal contributions to the task predict that the effective cell populations differ between the two encoding schemes, posing a question concerning the decoding schemes that the nervous system used during illusory states.

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