A data-driven approach to stimulus selection reveals an image-based representation of objects in high-level visual areas

David D. Coggan, Afrodite Giannakopoulou, Sanah Ali, Burcu Goz, David M. Watson, Tom Hartley, Daniel H. Baker, Timothy J. Andrews*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The ventral visual pathway is directly involved in the perception and recognition of objects. However, the extent to which the neural representation of objects in this region reflects low-level or high-level properties remains unresolved. A problem in resolving this issue is that only a small proportion of the objects experienced during natural viewing can be shown during a typical experiment. This can lead to an uneven sampling of objects that biases our understanding of how they are represented. To address this issue, we developed a data-driven approach to stimulus selection that involved describing a large number objects in terms of their image properties. In the first experiment, clusters of objects were evenly selected from this multi-dimensional image space. Although the clusters did not have any consistent semantic features, each elicited a distinct pattern of neural response. In the second experiment, we asked whether high-level, category-selective patterns of response could be elicited by objects from other categories, but with similar image properties. Object clusters were selected based on the similarity of their image properties to objects from five different categories (bottle, chair, face, house, and shoe). The pattern of response to each metameric object cluster was similar to the pattern elicited by objects from the corresponding category. For example, the pattern for bottles was similar to the pattern for objects with similar image properties to bottles. In both experiments, the patterns of response were consistent across participants providing evidence for common organising principles. This study provides a more ecological approach to understanding the perceptual representations of objects and reveals the importance of image properties.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4716-4731
JournalHuman Brain Mapping
Issue number16
Early online date23 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - 8 Oct 2019

Bibliographical note

© 2019 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy. Further copying may not be permitted; contact the publisher for details.


  • data-driven
  • fMRI
  • objects
  • ventral visual pathway

Cite this