5 years ago

Feature-coding transitions to conjunction-coding with progression through human visual cortex.

Serences JT, Leger K, Cowell RA
Identifying an object and distinguishing it from similar items depends upon the ability to perceive its component parts as conjoined into a cohesive whole, but the brain mechanisms underlying this ability remain elusive. The ventral visual processing pathway in primates is organized hierarchically: Neuronal responses in early stages are sensitive to the manipulation of simple visual features whereas neuronal responses in subsequent stages are tuned to increasingly complex stimulus attributes. It is widely assumed that feature-coding dominates in early visual cortex whereas later visual regions employ conjunction-coding in which object representations are different from the sum of their simple-feature parts. However, no study in humans has demonstrated that putative object-level codes in higher visual cortex cannot be accounted for by feature-coding and that putative feature-codes in regions prior to ventral temporal cortex are not equally well characterized as object-level codes. Thus the existence of a transition from feature- to conjunction-coding in human visual cortex remains unconfirmed, and, if a transition does occur, its location remains unknown. By employing multivariate analysis of functional imaging data, we measure both feature-coding and conjunction-coding directly, using the same set of visual stimuli, and pit them against each other to reveal the relative dominance of one versus the other throughout cortex. Our results reveal a transition from feature-coding in early visual cortex to conjunction-coding in both inferior temporal and posterior parietal cortices. This novel method enables the use of experimentally controlled stimulus features to investigate population-level feature- and conjunction-codes throughout human cortex.

Publisher URL: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28931611

DOI: PubMed:28931611

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