The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience

Behaviorally Relevant Abstract Object Identity Representation in the Human Parietal Cortex.

PMID 26843642


The representation of object identity is fundamental to human vision. Using fMRI and multivoxel pattern analysis, here we report the representation of highly abstract object identity information in human parietal cortex. Specifically, in superior intraparietal sulcus (IPS), a region previously shown to track visual short-term memory capacity, we found object identity representations for famous faces varying freely in viewpoint, hairstyle, facial expression, and age; and for well known cars embedded in different scenes, and shown from different viewpoints and sizes. Critically, these parietal identity representations were behaviorally relevant as they closely tracked the perceived face-identity similarity obtained in a behavioral task. Meanwhile, the task-activated regions in prefrontal and parietal cortices (excluding superior IPS) did not exhibit such abstract object identity representations. Unlike previous studies, we also failed to observe identity representations in posterior ventral and lateral visual object-processing regions, likely due to the greater amount of identity abstraction demanded by our stimulus manipulation here. Our MRI slice coverage precluded us from examining identity representation in anterior temporal lobe, a likely region for the computing of identity information in the ventral region. Overall, we show that human parietal cortex, part of the dorsal visual processing pathway, is capable of holding abstract and complex visual representations that are behaviorally relevant. These results argue against a "content-poor" view of the role of parietal cortex in attention. Instead, the human parietal cortex seems to be "content rich" and capable of directly participating in goal-driven visual information representation in the brain. The representation of object identity (including faces) is fundamental to human vision and shapes how we interact with the world. Although object representation has traditionally been associated with human occipital and temporal cortices, here we show, by measuring fMRI response patterns, that a region in the human parietal cortex can robustly represent task-relevant object identities. These representations are invariant to changes in a host of visual features, such as viewpoint, and reflect an abstract level of representation that has not previously been reported in the human parietal cortex. Critically, these neural representations are behaviorally relevant as they closely track the perceived object identities. Human parietal cortex thus participates in the moment-to-moment goal-directed visual information representation in the brain.

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