Adaptive estimation of three-dimensional structure in the human brain

Timothy Preston, Zoe Kourtzi, Andrew Welchman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

30 Citations (Scopus)


Perceiving the three-dimensional (3D) properties of the environment relies on the brain bringing together ambiguous cues (e.g., binocular disparity, shading, texture) with information gained from short- and long-term experience. Perceptual aftereffects, in which the perception of an ambiguous 3D stimulus is biased away from the shape of a previously viewed stimulus, provide a sensitive means of probing this process, yet little is known about their neural basis. Here, we investigate 3D aftereffects using psychophysical and functional MRI (fMRI) adaptation paradigms to gain insight into the cortical circuits that mediate the perceptual interpretation of ambiguous depth signals. Using two classic bistable stimuli (Mach card, kinetic depth effect), we test aftereffects produced by 3D shapes defined by binocular (disparity) or monocular (texture, shading) depth cues. We show that the processing of ambiguous 3D stimuli in dorsal visual cortical areas (V3B/KO, V7) and posterior parietal regions is modulated by adaptation in line with perceptual aftereffects. Similar behavioral and fMRI adaptation effects for the two types of bistable stimuli suggest common neural substrates for depth aftereffects independent of the inducing depth cues (disparity, texture, shading). In line with current thinking about the role of adaptation in sensory optimization, our findings provide evidence that estimation of 3D shape in dorsal cortical areas takes account of the adaptive context to resolve depth ambiguity and interpret 3D structure.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1688-98
Number of pages11
JournalThe Journal of Neuroscience
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 11 Feb 2009


  • ambiguous perception
  • vision
  • fMRI adaptation
  • psychophysics
  • depth perception
  • bistability


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