The research groups of Christiaan Levelt and Pieter Roelfsema have jointly obtained an NWO Open Competition ENW-KLEIN grant (€700.000) for their research in understanding the underlying mechanisms of visual perception and awareness.
We are aware of what we see, because our visual system almost instantaneously integrates information it receives from our eyes with the behavioral context. This process requires ongoing recurrent interactions between lower- and higher-order brain regions and is a hallmark of conscious perception. A well-established example of the essential contribution of recurrent activity in perceiving visual information is figure-ground segregation: the grouping of image elements that are behaviorally relevant and their separation from the background. While the interactions of excitatory neurons (i.e. those that activate other neurons) in the visual system have been well-studied in this process, the contribution of inhibitory neurons is still unknown.
The proposed research aims to identify the specific types of inhibitory neurons in the thalamus and cortex that are responsible for these processes and to understand how they contribute to separating behaviorally relevant visual information from the background. Our results will unveil novel biological principles that contribute to visual perception and will also have important implications for understanding awareness.
KLEIN grants are intended to realize high-quality, fundamental research driven by curiosity and/or scientific urgency. The KLEIN grant offers researchers the opportunity to develop creative and challenging ideas and to realize scientific innovations that can form the basis for the research themes of the future.