New study confirms the influence of brainwaves on perception

5 Apr 2024

Researchers at UQ's Queensland Brain Institute have confirmed that brainwaves can affect visual perception, particularly when it comes to distinguishing between objects.

Dr Anthony Harris from UQ’s Queensland Brain Institute said neural oscillations, or brainwaves, have long been considered to play a crucial role in various cognitive processes but recent studies have raised questions about their role in the realm of visual perception.

“Our study investigated the influence of the brain’s rhythmic activity on perception by focusing on the visual tilt illusion – a phenomenon where the perceived orientation of a line or grating pattern appears different from its true orientation when another grating is present. 

“This happens because the neurons responding to the two sets of gratings influence each other.”

Dr Anthony Harris

To explore this phenomenon, the research team conducted an experiment where participants were presented with a series of grating patterns and asked to report whether the pattern appeared tilted left or right of vertical on each trial, while their brain activity was measured with electroencephalogram (EEG).  

“Our findings suggest that the oscillation phase, whether it is a peak or trough or somewhere in between, influences the complex processing involved in stimulus discrimination.

“This supports the notion that brainwaves play a significant role in the neural computations underlying perception.

Dr Harris said the findings contribute to our understanding of how the brain constructs what we see.

“Our findings contribute to a better understanding of the role neural oscillations play in perception and highlights the importance of moment-by-moment fluctuations in brain activity for determining the outcome of neural processes,” he said.

“By demonstrating the impact of oscillation phase on perception in a task involving early sensory processing, we have provided valuable insights into the broader implications of neural oscillations in neural information processing throughout the brain.”

The research paper has been published in Current Biology