The world tends to be stable from moment to moment, leading to strong serial correlations in natural scenes. As similar stimuli usually require similar behavioral responses, it is highly likely that the brain has developed strategies to leverage these regularities. A good deal of recent psychophysical evidence is beginning to show that the brain is sensitive to serial correlations, causing strong drifts in observer responses towards previously seen stimuli. However, it is still not clear that this tendency leads to a functional advantage. Here we test a formal model of optimal serial dependence and show that as predicted, serial dependence in an orientation reproduction task is dependent on current stimulus reliability, with less precise stimuli, such as low spatial frequency oblique Gabors, exhibiting the strongest effects. We also show that serial dependence depends on the similarity between two successive stimuli, again consistent with behavior of an ideal observer aiming at minimizing reproduction errors. Lastly, we show that serial dependence leads to faster response times, indicating that the benefits of serial integration go beyond reproduction error. Overall our data show that serial dependence has a beneficial role at various levels of perception, consistent with the idea that the brain exploits temporal redundancy of the visual scene as an optimization strategy.
National Science Foundation, Award: FPT/2007–2013 No. 338866 “ESCPLAIN”