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Slowing of the rate at which a rivalrous percept switches from one configuration to another has been suggested as a potential trait marker for bipolar disorder. We measured perceptual alternations for a bistable, rotating, structure-from-motion cylinder in bipolar and control participants. In a control task, binocular depth rendered the direction of cylinder rotation unambiguous to monitor participants' performance and attention during the experimental task. A particular direction of rotation was perceptually stable, on average, for 33.5s in participants without psychiatric diagnosis. Euthymic, bipolar participants showed a slightly slower rate of switching between the two percepts (percept duration 42.3s). Under a parametric analysis of the best-fitting model for individual participants, this difference was statistically significant. However, the variability within groups was high, so this difference in average switch rates was not big enough to serve as a trait marker for bipolar disorder. We also found that low-level visual capacities, such as stereo threshold, influence perceptual switch rates. We suggest that there is no single brain location responsible for perceptual switching in all different ambiguous figures and that perceptual switching is generated by the actions of local cortical circuitry.

Original publication




Journal article


Proc Biol Sci

Publication Date





1839 - 1848


Adult, Aged, Bipolar Disorder, Female, Humans, Male, Middle Aged, Rotation, Time Factors, Visual Cortex, Visual Perception