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Rapid image presentations combined with time-resolved multivariate analysis methods of EEG or MEG (rapid-MVPA) offer unique potential in assessing the temporal limitations of the human visual system. Recent work has shown that multiple visual objects presented sequentially can be simultaneously decoded from M/EEG recordings. Interestingly, object representations reached higher stages of processing for slower image presentation rates compared to fast rates. This fast rate attenuation is probably caused by forward and backward masking from the other images in the stream. Two factors that are likely to influence masking during rapid streams are stimulus duration and stimulus onset asynchrony (SOA). Here, we disentangle these effects by studying the emerging neural representation of visual objects using rapid-MVPA while independently manipulating stimulus duration and SOA. Our results show that longer SOAs enhance the decodability of neural representations, regardless of stimulus presentation duration, suggesting that subsequent images act as effective backward masks. In contrast, image duration does not appear to have a graded influence on object representations. Interestingly, however, decodability was improved when there was a gap between subsequent images, indicating that an abrupt onset or offset of an image enhances its representation. Our study yields insight into the dynamics of object processing in rapid streams, paving the way for future work using this promising approach.
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