Signals in our brain are in a constant state of competition, including those that vie for motor control, sensory dominance, and awareness. To shed light on the mechanisms underlying neural competition, we exploit binocular rivalry, a phenomenon that allows us to probe the competitive process that ordinarily transpires outside of our awareness. By measuring psychometric functions under different states of rivalry, we discovered a pattern of gain changes that are consistent with a model of competition in which attention interacts with normalization processes, thereby driving the ebb and flow between states of awareness. Moreover, we reveal that attention plays a crucial role in modulating competition; without attention, rivalry suppression for high-contrast stimuli is negligible. We propose a framework whereby our visual awareness of competing sensory representations is governed by a common neural computation: normalization.
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