Spatially heterogeneous flicker, characterized by probabilistic and locally independent luminance modulations, abounds in nature. It is generated by flames, water surfaces, rustling leaves, and so on, and it is pleasant to the senses. It affords spatiotemporal multistability that allows sensory activation conforming to the biases of the visual system, thereby generating the perception of spontaneous motion and likely facilitating the calibration of motion detectors. One may thus hypothesize that spatially heterogeneous flicker might potentially provide restoring stimuli to the visual system that engage fluent (requiring minimal top-down control) and self-calibrating processes. Here, we present some converging behavioral and electrophysiological evidence consistent with this idea. Spatially heterogeneous (multistable) flicker (relative to controls matched in temporal statistics) reduced posterior EEG (electroencephalography) beta power implicated in long-range neural interactions that impose top-down influences on sensory processing. Further, the degree of spatiotemporal multistability, the amount of posterior beta-power reduction, and the aesthetic responses to flicker were closely associated. These results are consistent with the idea that the pleasantness of natural flicker may derive from its spatiotemporal multistability that affords fluent and self-calibrating visual processing.
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