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Su, Yannan; Wachtler, Thomas; Shi, Zhuanghua (2023): Reference induces biases in late visual processing. Scientific Reports, 13 (1). ISSN 2045-2322

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How we perceive a visual stimulus can be influenced by its surrounding context. For example, the presence of a reference skews the perception of a similar feature in a stimulus, a phenomenon called reference repulsion. Ongoing research so far remains inconclusive regarding the stage of visual information processing where such repulsion occurs. We examined the influence of a reference on late visual processing. We measured the repulsion effect caused by an orientation reference presented after an orientation ensemble stimulus. The participants’ reported orientations were significantly biased away from the post-stimulus reference, displaying typical characteristics of reference repulsion. Moreover, explicit discrimination choices between the reference and the stimulus influenced the magnitudes of repulsion effects, which can be explained by an encoding-decoding model that differentiates the re-weighting of sensory representations in implicit and explicit processes. These results support the notion that reference repulsion may arise at a late decision-related stage of visual processing, where different sensory decoding strategies are employed depending on the specific task.

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