Perception, particularly in the visual domain, is drastically influenced by rhythmic changes in ambient lighting conditions. Anticipation of daylight changes by the circadian system is critical for survival. However, the neural bases of time-of-day-dependent modulation in human perception are not yet understood. We used fMRI to study brain dynamics during resting-state and close-to-threshold visual perception repeatedly at six times of the day. Here we report that resting-state signal variance drops endogenously at times coinciding with dawn and dusk, notably in sensory cortices only. In parallel, perception-related signal variance in visual cortices decreases and correlates negatively with detection performance, identifying an anticipatory mechanism that compensates for the deteriorated visual signal quality at dawn and dusk. Generally, our findings imply that decreases in spontaneous neural activity improve close-to-threshold perception.
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