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Early suppression effect in human primary visual cortex during Kanizsa illusion processing: A magnetoencephalographic evidence


Detection of illusory contours (ICs) such as Kanizsa figures is known to depend primarily upon the lateral occipital complex. Yet there is no universal agreement on the role of the primary visual cortex in this process; some existing evidence hints that an early stage of the visual response in V1 may involve relative suppression to Kanizsa figures compared with controls. Iso-oriented luminance borders, which are responsible for Kanizsa illusion, may evoke surround suppression in V1 and adjacent areas leading to the reduction in the initial response to Kanizsa figures. We attempted to test the existence, as well as to find localization and timing of the early suppression effect produced by Kanizsa figures in adult nonclinical human participants. We used two sizes of visual stimuli (4.5 and 9.0°) in order to probe the effect at two different levels of eccentricity; the stimuli were presented centrally in passive viewing conditions. We recorded magnetoencephalogram, which is more sensitive than electroencephalogram to activity originating from V1 and V2 areas. We restricted our analysis to the medial occipital area and the occipital pole, and to a 40–120 ms time window after the stimulus onset. By applying threshold-free cluster enhancement technique in combination with permutation statistics, we were able to detect the inverted IC effect—a relative suppression of the response to the Kanizsa figures compared with the control stimuli. The current finding is highly compatible with the explanation involving surround suppression evoked by iso-oriented collinear borders. The effect may be related to the principle of sparse coding, according to which V1 suppresses representations of inner parts of collinear assemblies as being informationally redundant. Such a mechanism is likely to be an important preliminary step preceding object contour detection.

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*Address correspondence to: Boris V. Chernyshev, Ph.D, National Research University Higher School of Economics, Myasnitskaya str. 20, Moscow, 101000, Russia, Phone: +7 916 7163993. E-mail:; Additional E-mail:
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Visual Neuroscience
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