Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Real-world objects are often endowed with features that violate Gestalt principles. In our experiment, we examined the neural correlates of binding under conflict conditions in terms of the binding-by-synchronization hypothesis. We presented an ambiguous stimulus (“diamond illusion”) to 12 observers. The display consisted of four oblique gratings drifting within circular apertures. Its interpretation fluctuates between bound (“diamond”) and unbound (component gratings) percepts. To model a situation in which Gestalt-driven analysis contradicts the perceptually explicit bound interpretation, we modified the original diamond (OD) stimulus by speeding up one grating. Using OD and modified diamond (MD) stimuli, we managed to dissociate the neural correlates of Gestalt-related (OD vs. MD) and perception-related (bound vs. unbound) factors. Their interaction was expected to reveal the neural networks synchronized specifically in the conflict situation. The synchronization topography of EEG was analyzed with the multivariate S-estimator technique. We found that good Gestalt (OD vs. MD) was associated with a higher posterior synchronization in the beta-gamma band. The effect of perception manifested itself as reciprocal modulations over the posterior and anterior regions (theta/beta-gamma bands). Specifically, higher posterior and lower anterior synchronization supported the bound percept, and the opposite was true for the unbound percept. The interaction showed that binding under challenging perceptual conditions is sustained by enhanced parietal synchronization. We argue that this distributed pattern of synchronization relates to the processes of multistage integration ranging from early grouping operations in the visual areas to maintaining representations in the frontal networks of sensory memory.