fMRI neurofeedback of higher visual areas and perceptual biases
The self-regulation of brain activation via neurofeedback training offers a method to study the relationship between brain areas and perception in a more direct manner than the conventional mapping of brain responses to different types of stimuli. The current proof-of-concept study aimed to demonstrate that healthy volunteers can self-regulate activity in the parahippocampal place area (PPA) over the fusiform face area (FFA). Both areas are involved in higher order visual processing and are activated during the imagery of scenes and faces respectively. Participants (N=9) were required to upregulate PPA relative to FFA activity, and all succeeded at the task, with imagery of scenes being the most commonly reported mental strategy. A control group (N=8) underwent the same imagery and testing procedure, albeit without neurofeedback, in a mock MR scanner to account for any non-specific training effects. The upregulation of PPA activity occurred concurrently with activation of prefrontal and parietal areas, which have been associated with ideation and mental image generation. We tested whether successful upregulation of the PPA relative to FFA had consequences on perception by assessing bistable perception of faces and houses in a binocular rivalry task (before and after the scanning sessions) and categorisation of faces and scenes presented in transparent composite images (during scanning, interleaved with the self-regulation blocks). Contrary to our expectations, upregulation of the PPA did not alter the duration of face or house perception in the rivalry task and response speed and accuracy in the categorisation task. This conclusion was supported by the results of another control experiment (N=10 healthy participants) that involved intensive exposure to category-specific stimuli and did not show any behavioural or perceptual changes. We conclude that differential self-regulation of higher visual areas can be achieved, but that perceptual biases under conditions of stimulus rivalry are relatively robust against such internal modulation of localised brain activity. This study sets the basis for future investigations of perceptual and behavioural consequences of localised self-regulation of neural activity.
Citation:Habes, I., Rushton, S., Johnston, S.J., Sokunbi, M.O., Barawi, K., Brosnan, M. and Daly, T. (2016) fMRI neurofeedback of higher visual areas and perceptual biases. Neuropsychologia, 85, pp. 208-215.