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Rapid contextualization of fragmented scene information in the human visual system

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JournalNeuroimage
DateAccepted/In press - 9 Jun 2020
DateE-pub ahead of print - 12 Jun 2020
DatePublished (current) - 1 Oct 2020
Volume219
Number of pages7
Early online date12/06/20
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Real-world environments are extremely rich in visual information. At any given moment in time, only a fraction of this information is available to the eyes and the brain, rendering naturalistic vision a collection of incomplete snapshots. Previous research suggests that in order to successfully contextualize this fragmented information, the visual system sorts inputs according to spatial schemata, that is knowledge about the typical composition of the visual world. Here, we used a large set of 840 different natural scene fragments to investigate whether this sorting mechanism can operate across the diverse visual environments encountered during real-world vision. We recorded brain activity using electroencephalography (EEG) while participants viewed incomplete scene fragments at fixation. Using representational similarity analysis on the EEG data, we tracked the fragments' cortical representations across time. We found that the fragments' typical vertical location within the environment (top or bottom) predicted their cortical representations, indexing a sorting of information according to spatial schemata. The fragments' cortical representations were most strongly organized by their vertical location at around 200ms after image onset, suggesting rapid perceptual sorting of information according to spatial schemata. In control analyses, we show that this sorting is flexible with respect to visual features: it is neither explained by commonalities between visually similar indoor and outdoor scenes, nor by the feature organization emerging from a deep neural network trained on scene categorization. Demonstrating such a flexible sorting across a wide range of visually diverse scenes suggests a contextualization mechanism suitable for complex and variable real-world environments.

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Copyright © 2020. Published by Elsevier Inc.

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