Neural basis of subjective visual experience

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Dr. rer. nat. Natalia Zaretskaya
Institute for Psychology
University of Graz

Our subjective experience of the outside world results from an interplay between the information from our sensory organs and top-down influences such as our knowledge, experience, and expectations. For efficient perception, our brain must balance these two types of influences. A loss of this balance can lead to perceptual errors and, in extreme cases, to hallucinations, which may be caused by an excessive influence of the top-down processes. It is therefore important to understand how our top-down influences transforms sensory information into subjective experience, both for basic research and for potential clinical applications.

In this project, we will study the neural mechanisms of subjective experience from two different angles. First, we will study the neural mechanisms of healthy perception of visual illusions. Second, we will study the neural mechanisms of pathological perceptions in participants who experience hallucinations. Using advanced fMRI methods, we will determine which anatomical and functional characteristics of the brain are responsible for subjective experience in these two cases. We will then combine and compare results from these two streams of research to determine the commonalities and differences between the two types of subjective experience. By doing so we will be able to distill the common mechanism responsible for producing subjective experience, and determine those aspects of neural activity that specifically characterize pathological cases.

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