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Shape coding in occipito-temporal cortex relies on object silhouette, curvature, and medial axis

Publication year 2020
Published in Journal of Neurophysiology
Authors Paolo Papale, Andrea Leo, Giacomo Handjaras, Luca Cecchetti, Pietro Pietrini, Emiliano Ricciardi,

Object recognition relies on different transformations of the retinal input, carried out by the visual system, that range from local contrast to object shape and category. While some of those transformations are thought to occur at specific stages of the visual hierarchy, the features they represent are correlated (e.g., object shape and identity) and selectivity for the same feature overlaps in many brain regions. This may be explained either by collinearity across representations or may instead reflect the coding of multiple dimensions by the same cortical population. Moreover, orthogonal and shared components may differently impact distinctive stages of the visual hierarchy. We recorded functional MRI activity while participants passively attended to object images and employed a statistical approach that partitioned orthogonal and shared object representations to reveal their relative impact on brain processing. Orthogonal shape representations (silhouette, curvature, and medial axis) independently explained distinct and overlapping clusters of selectivity in the occitotemporal and parietal cortex. Moreover, we show that the relevance of shared representations linearly increases moving from posterior to anterior regions. These results indicate that the visual cortex encodes shared relations between different features in a topographic fashion and that object shape is encoded along different dimensions, each representing orthogonal features.NEW & NOTEWORTHY There are several possible ways of characterizing the shape of an object. Which shape description better describes our brain responses while we passively perceive objects? Here, we employed three competing shape models to explain brain representations when viewing real objects. We found that object shape is encoded in a multidimensional fashion and thus defined by the interaction of multiple features.

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