Susana Martinez-Conde, Michael B McCamy, Xoana G Troncoso, Jorge Otero-Millan & Stephen L Macknik
Vasarely’s nested squares illusion shows that the corners of concentric squares, arranged in a gradient of increasing or decreasing luminance, generate illusory corner-folds, which appear more salient (either brighter or darker) than the adjacent flat (non- corner) regions of each individual square. The Alternating Brightness Star (ABS) illusion, based on Vasarely’s classic nested squares, further shows that the strength of these corner-folds depends on corner angle. Previous psychophysical studies showed the relationship between corner angle and perceived contrast in the ABS illusion to be linear, with sharp angles looking higher in contrast, and shallow angles lower in contrast. Center-surround difference-of-Gaussians (DOG) modeling did not replicate this linear relationship, however, suggesting that a full neural explanation of the nested squares and ABS illusions might be found in the visual cortex, rather than at subcortical stages. Here we recorded the responses from single area V1 neurons in the awake primate, during the presentation of visual stimuli containing illusory corner-folds of various angles. Our results showed stronger neural responses for illusory corner-folds made from sharper than from shallower corners, consistent with predictions from the previous psychophysical work. The relationship between corner angle and strength of the neuronal responses, albeit parametric, was apparently non-linear. This finding was in line with the previous DOG data, but not with the psychophysical data. Our combined results suggest that, whereas corner-fold illusions likely originate from center-surround retinogeniculate processes, their complete neural explanation may be found in extrastriate visual cortical areas.
Martinez-Conde, McCamy, Troncoso, Otero-Millan & Macknik (2019) Area V1 responses to illusory corner-folds in Vasarely’s nested squares and the Alternating Brightness Star illusions.. PLoS One. 2019 Mar 28;14(3):e0210941.