Characterizing object- and position-dependent response profiles to uni- and bilateral stimulus configurations in human higher visual cortex: a 7T fMRI study
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Visual scenes are initially processed via segregated neural pathways dedicated to either of the two visual hemifields. Although higher-order visual areas are generally believed to utilize invariant object representations (abstracted away from features such as stimulus position), recent findings suggest they retain more spatial information than previously thought. Here, we assessed the nature of such higher-order object representations in human cortex using high-resolution fMRI at 7T, supported by corroborative 3T data. We show that multi-voxel activation patterns in both the contra- and ipsilateral hemisphere can be exploited to successfully classify the object category of unilaterally presented stimuli. Moreover, robustly identified rank order-based response profiles demonstrated a strong contralateral bias which frequently outweighed object category preferences. Finally, we contrasted different combinatorial operations to predict the responses during bilateral stimulation conditions based on responses to their constituent unilateral elements. Results favored a max operation predominantly reflecting the contralateral stimuli. The current findings extend previous work by showing that configuration-dependent modulations in higher-order visual cortex responses as observed in single unit activity have a counterpart in human neural population coding. They furthermore corroborate the emerging view that position coding is a fundamental functional characteristic of ventral visual stream processing.
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