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P-CYCLES Report Summary

Project ID: 614244
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: France

Periodic Report Summary 2 - P-CYCLES (Perceptual Cycles: Exploring and controlling the perceptual consequences of brain rhythms)

Many current theories implicate brain oscillations in cognitive functions such as perception, attention, consciousness and memory. The involvement of brain oscillations, however, has one critical implication that is often overlooked in cognitive sciences: if a perceptual function relies on an oscillatory neural implementation, then it should operate periodically, i.e. as a sequence of successive episodes or 'snapshots', with more or less favourable moments recurring at a well-defined periodicity following the up-and-down fluctuations of neural activity. In other words, perception should be a rhythmic process. The present project aims to explore the validity and the consequences of this groundbreaking notion of "rhythmic perception". Contrary to conventional contemporary research linking perceptual functions to relatively slow changes of oscillatory amplitude, we investigate the perceptual consequences of brain oscillations at the rapid time scale of the oscillatory cycle –hence, the notion of "perceptual cycles". In work-package (WP) 1, we demonstrated that a vast range of perceptual and cognitive operations in both the visual and the auditory domains display cyclic behaviour. In WP2, we related these perceptual and cognitive cycles to the underlying neural activities by means of brain imaging techniques (EEG, fMRI, TMS); a key innovation is a proposed novel fMRI method to visualize the spatio-temporal propagation of perceptual cycles, i.e. perceptual "waves". In WP3, we utilized this knowledge to control the power, frequency and phase of perceptual rhythms and thereby dynamically manipulate, improve or prevent perception; a key innovation is the novel concept of "neuro-encryption": a system for delivering visual "messages" that are only visible at certain moments, and remain concealed at others. In WP4, we bridged the gap between lower- and higher-frequency perceptual cycles by computational models of visual information multiplexing. The project as a whole brings us closer to understanding the rhythmic dynamics of perception, their neural basis and their functional implications. The idea that sensory perception and cognition might follow a succession of snapshots rather than a continuous stream could spark a major transformation in cognitive sciences.

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