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A Bayesian and efficient observer model explains concurrent attractive and repulsive history biases in visual perception

  1. Matthias Fritsche  Is a corresponding author
  2. Eelke Spaak
  3. Floris P de Lange
  1. Radboud University, Netherlands
Research Article
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Cite this article as: eLife 2020;9:e55389 doi: 10.7554/eLife.55389


Human perceptual decisions can be repelled away from (repulsive adaptation) or attracted towards recent visual experience (attractive serial dependence). It is currently unclear whether and how these repulsive and attractive biases interact during visual processing and what computational principles underlie these history dependencies. Here we disentangle repulsive and attractive biases by exploring their respective timescales. We find that perceptual decisions are concurrently attracted towards the short-term perceptual history and repelled from stimuli experienced up to minutes into the past. The temporal pattern of short-term attraction and long-term repulsion cannot be captured by an ideal Bayesian observer model alone. Instead, it is well captured by an ideal observer model with efficient encoding and Bayesian decoding of visual information in a slowly changing environment. Concurrent attractive and repulsive history biases in perceptual decisions may thus be the consequence of the need for visual processing to simultaneously satisfy constraints of efficiency and stability.

Data availability

All data and code are openly available on the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behavior repository at http://hdl.handle.net/11633/aac4scwf.

The following previously published data sets were used

Article and author information

Author details

  1. Matthias Fritsche

    Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Radboud University, Nijmegen, Netherlands
    For correspondence
    Competing interests
    No competing interests declared.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0001-5835-9057
  2. Eelke Spaak

    Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Radboud University, Nijmegen, Netherlands
    Competing interests
    No competing interests declared.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-2018-3364
  3. Floris P de Lange

    Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Radboud University, Nijmegen, Netherlands
    Competing interests
    Floris P de Lange, Senior editor, eLife.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-6730-1452


H2020 European Research Council (ERC Starting Grant 678286,'Contextvision')

  • Matthias Fritsche
  • Floris P de Lange

Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (NWO Veni grant 016.Veni.198.065)

  • Eelke Spaak

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.


Human subjects: The study followed institutional guidelines of the local ethics committee (CMO region Arnhem-Nijmegen, The Netherlands; Protocol CMO2014/288), including informed consent of all participants.

Reviewing Editor

  1. John T Serences, University of California, San Diego, United States

Publication history

  1. Received: January 22, 2020
  2. Accepted: May 29, 2020
  3. Accepted Manuscript published: June 1, 2020 (version 1)
  4. Version of Record published: June 10, 2020 (version 2)


© 2020, Fritsche et al.

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.


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