January 16, 2021

The contribution of object size, manipulability, and stability on neural responses to inanimate objects

In human occipitotemporal cortex, brain responses to depicted inanimate objects have a large-scale organization by real-world object size. Critically, the size of objects in the world is systematically related to behaviorally-relevant properties: small objects are often grasped and manipulated (e.g., forks), while large objects tend to be less motor-relevant (e.g., tables), though this relationship does not always have to be true (e.g., picture frames and wheelbarrows). To determine how these two dimensions interact, we measured brain activity with functional magnetic resonance imaging while participants viewed a stimulus set of small and large objects with either low or high motor-relevance. The results revealed that the size organization was evident for objects with both low and high motor-relevance; further, a motor-relevance map was also evident across both large and small objects. Targeted contrasts revealed that typical combinations (small motor-relevant vs. large non-motor-relevant) yielded more robust topographies than the atypical covariance contrast (small non-motor-relevant vs. large motor-relevant). In subsequent exploratory analyses, a factor analysis revealed that the construct of motor-relevance was better explained by two underlying factors: one more related to manipulability, and the other to whether an object moves or is stable. The factor related to manipulability better explained responses in lateral small-object preferring regions, while the factor related to object stability (lack of movement) better explained responses in ventromedial large-object preferring regions. Taken together, these results reveal that the structure of neural responses to objects of different sizes further reflect behavior-relevant properties of manipulability and stability, and contribute to a deeper understanding of some of the factors that help the large-scale organization of object representation in high-level visual cortex.

 bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience

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