Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a technique used to study perceptual, motor, and cognitive functions in the human brain. Its effects have been likened to a "virtual brain lesion," but a direct test of this assumption is lacking. To verify this hypothesis, we measured psychophysically the interaction between the neural activity induced by a visual motion-direction discrimination task and that induced by TMS. The visual stimulus featured two elements: a visual signal (dots that moved coherently in one direction) and visual noise (dots that moved randomly in many directions). Three hypotheses were tested to explain the impairment in performance as a result of TMS: 1) a decrease in signal strength; 2) an induction of randomly distributed neural noise with an accompanying decrement in system sensitivity; and 3) a suppression of relevant information processing and addition of neural noise. We provide evidence in favor of the second hypothesis by showing that TMS basically acts by adding neural noise to the perceptual process.
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