Inhibitory interneurons are essential components of the neural circuits underlying various brain functions. In the neocortex, a large diversity of GABA (γ-aminobutyric acid) interneurons has been identified on the basis of their morphology, molecular markers, biophysical properties and innervation pattern. However, how the activity of each subtype of interneurons contributes to sensory processing remains unclear. Here we show that optogenetic activation of parvalbumin-positive (PV+) interneurons in the mouse primary visual cortex (V1) sharpens neuronal feature selectivity and improves perceptual discrimination. Using multichannel recording with silicon probes and channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2)-mediated optical activation, we found that increased spiking of PV+ interneurons markedly sharpened orientation tuning and enhanced direction selectivity of nearby neurons. These effects were caused by the activation of inhibitory neurons rather than a decreased spiking of excitatory neurons, as archaerhodopsin-3 (Arch)-mediated optical silencing of calcium/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase IIα (CAMKIIα)-positive excitatory neurons caused no significant change in V1 stimulus selectivity. Moreover, the improved selectivity specifically required PV+ neuron activation, as activating somatostatin or vasointestinal peptide interneurons had no significant effect. Notably, PV+ neuron activation in awake mice caused a significant improvement in their orientation discrimination, mirroring the sharpened V1 orientation tuning. Together, these results provide the first demonstration that visual coding and perception can be improved by increased spiking of a specific subtype of cortical inhibitory interneurons.