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Baumgarten T; Schnitzler A; Lange J; Romo R (2015)

BETA OSCILLATIONS DEFINE DISCRETE PERCEPTUAL CYCLES IN THE SOMATOSENSORY DOMAIN

P NATL ACAD SCI USA 112(39):12187-12192
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Whether seeing a movie, listening to a song, or feeling a breeze on the skin, we coherently experience these stimuli as continuous, seamless percepts. However, there are rare perceptual phenomena that argue against continuous perception but, instead, suggest discrete processing of sensory input. Empirical evidence supporting such a discrete mechanism, however, remains scarce and comes entirely from the visual domain. Here, we demonstrate compelling evidence for discrete perceptual sampling in the somatosensory domain. Using magnetoencephalography (MEG) and a tactile temporal discrimination task in humans, we find that oscillatory alpha-and low beta-band (8-20 Hz) cycles in primary somatosensory cortex represent neurophysiological correlates of discrete perceptual cycles. Our results agree with several theoretical concepts of discrete perceptual sampling and empirical evidence of perceptual cycles in the visual domain. Critically, these results show that discrete perceptual cycles are not domain-specific, and thus restricted to the visual domain, but extend to the somatosensory domain.