Missing the forest because of the trees: Slower alternations during binocular rivalry are associated with lower levels of visual detail during ongoing thought

Nerissa Siu Ping Ho, Daniel Hart Baker, Theodoros Karapanagiotidis, Paul Seli, Hao-Ting Wang, Robert Leech, Boris C Bernhardt, Daniel S Margulies, Beth Jefferies, Jonathan Smallwood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Conscious awareness of the world fluctuates, either through variation in how vividly we perceive the environment, or when our attentional focus shifts away from information in the external environment towards information that we generate via imagination. Our study combined individual differences in experience sampling, psychophysical reports of perception, and neuroimaging descriptions of structural connectivity to better understand these changes in conscious awareness. In particular, we examined (1) whether aspects of ongoing thought—indexed via multi-dimensional experience sampling during a sustained-attention task—are associated with the white-matter fibre organization of the cortex as reflected by their relative degree of anisotropic diffusion, and (2) whether these neuro-cognitive descriptions of ongoing experience are related to a more constrained measure of visual consciousness through analysis of bi-stable perception during binocular rivalry. Individuals with greater fractional anisotropy in right hemisphere white-matter regions involving the inferior fronto-occipital fasciculus, the superior longitudinal fasciculus, and the cortico-spinal tract, described their ongoing thoughts as lacking external details. Subsequent analysis indicated that the combination of low fractional anisotropy in these right hemisphere regions, with reports of thoughts with high-levels of external details, was associated with the shortest periods of dominance during binocular rivalry. Since variation in binocular rivalry reflects differences between bottom-up and top-down influences on vision, our study suggests that reports of ongoing thoughts with vivid external details may occur when conscious precedence is given to bottom-up representation of perceptual information.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberniaa020
JournalNeuroscience of consciousness
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 5 Oct 2020

Bibliographical note

© The Author(s) 2020.


  • ongoing thought
  • binocular rivalry
  • detail
  • diffusion tensor imaging
  • experience sampling
  • fractional anisotropy

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