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WIREs Cogn Sci
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The binding problem

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The brain processes information in a distributed manner so that features of the sensory input are detected at different sites and subsets of these features are integrated into objects. The notion of ‘binding’ refers to the corresponding integration process, leading to perception of these objects as entities, and ‘the binding problem’ either refers to the scientific challenge of identifying mechanisms that may achieve binding or to the difficulty that mind and brain may have with binding in certain situations. This review concentrates on binding of properties in visual perception, but other varieties of the binding problem are also mentioned. The binding problem is reviewed from psychological, neurobiological, and computational perspectives. This article is categorized under: Psychology > Brain Function and Dysfunction Neuroscience > Cognition Neuroscience > Physiology
Sequential binding in audition as it occurs in the cocktail party phenomenon. This phenomenon was studied with the split‐span procedure, using headphones and different messages played to the left and right ear. In case of the panel on the left, subjects tend to report fewer errors on strings of words played to only one ear, for example, ‘2‐4‐7’, in comparison to the paired perception of ‘2‐8’, ‘4‐6’, ‘7‐2’, indicating an ‘early selection’ of feature channels. In contrast, in case of the panel on the right side the meaningful message ‘Dear‐Aunt‐Jane’ is more easily perceived although played to both ears. If this process should involve semantic analysis, it would point to a ‘late selection’ process. See the text and Ref for further comments, in particular, on differences between early and late selection of perceived stimuli.
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Illustration of the communication‐through‐coherence (CTC) hypothesis, comparing the effective couplings between groups A and C of neurons versus the couplings between groups B and C. The plots on the right‐hand side indicate oscillating excitability, corresponding to ‘windows of opportunity’ for mutual excitation. If the times of maximal excitability coincide, according to the CTC hypothesis the communication will be supported (here the one between B and C) while the other (between A and C) is suppressed.
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Avoiding the superposition catastrophe through temporal correlations. The figure symbolizes the temporally correlated (for example, synchronized) activity of one object through plus‐symbols, while the differently correlated activity of the other is indicated through dots. The different temporal correlations provide a means to distinguish the two representations in case of common activation.
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The ‘superposition catastrophe’ as illustrated in Ref (see also Ref ). The dots inside the boxes indicate active neurons representing features of objects (referred to as ‘assemblies’ by Hebb). The box on the left and in the middle indicates the activation in case that only one of the objects is present. In case of common activation through both objects, represented with the box on the right side, there is no indication that would allow distinguishing the features of one object from the features of the other.
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Illusory conjunctions. The display was briefly presented to subjects. In the case that attention was spread over the display, subjects frequently erred in the binding forms and colors correctly. This was in contrast to cases where attention was focused on particular items. (Reprinted with permission from Ref , p. 95, Figure 6.3. Copyright 1999 Oxford University Press).
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Comparison of (a) feature search and (b) conjunction search. (a) Search for the white items and (b) search for the white items with horizontal orientation. The former targets are given through one feature only, whereas the latter require the conjunction of two features. While the targets pop out in the first case, the identification of the targets in the second case requires a more elaborate search.
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Psychology > Brain Function and Dysfunction
Neuroscience > Physiology
Neuroscience > Cognition

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