When transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) modulates feature integration
How the brain integrates visual information across time into coherent percepts is an open question. Here, we presented two verniers with opposite offset directions one after the other. A vernier consists of two vertical bars that are horizontally offset. When the two verniers are separated by a blank screen (interstimulus interval, ISI), the two verniers are perceived either as two separate entities or as one vernier with the offset moving from one side to the other depending on the ISI. In both cases, their offsets can be reported independently. Transcranial magnet stimulation (TMS) over the occipital cortex does not interfere with the offset discrimination of either vernier. When a grating, instead of the ISI, is presented, the two verniers are not perceived separately anymore, but as ‘one’ vernier with ‘one’ fused vernier offset. TMS strongly modulates the percept of the fused vernier offset even though the spatio-temporal position of the verniers is identical in the ISI and grating conditions. We suggest that the grating suppresses the termination signal of the first vernier and the onset signal of the second vernier. As a consequence, perception of the individual verniers is suppressed. Neural representations of the vernier and second vernier inhibit each other, which renders them vulnerable to TMS for at least 300 ms, even though stimulus presentation was only 100 ms. Our data suggest that stimulus features can be flexibly integrated in the occipital cortex, mediated by neural interactions with outlast stimulus presentations by far.