Crossmodal illusions clearly show how perception, rather than being a modular and self-contained function, can be dramatically altered by interactions between senses. Here, we provide evidence for a novel crossmodal "physiological" illusion, showing that sounds can boost visual cortical responses in such a way to give rise to a striking illusory visual percept. In healthy participants, a single-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation (sTMS) delivered to the occipital cortex evoked a visual percept, i.e., a phosphene. When sTMS is accompanied by two auditory beeps, the second beep induces in neurologically unimpaired participants the perception of an illusory second phosphene, namely the sound-induced phosphene illusion. This perceptual "fission" of a single phosphene, due to multiple beeps, is not matched by a "fusion" of double phosphenes due to a single beep, and it is characterized by an early auditory modulation of the TMS-induced visual responses (~80 ms). Multiple beeps also induce an illusory feeling of multiple TMS pulses on the participants' scalp, consistent with an audio-tactile fission illusion. In conclusion, an auditory stimulation may bring about a phenomenological change in the conscious visual experience produced by the transcranial stimulation of the occipital cortex, which reveals crossmodal binding mechanisms within early stages of visual processing.
- Occipital cortex
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