February 28, 2021

The human visual system preserves the hierarchy of 2-dimensional pattern regularity

Symmetries are present at many scales in images of natural scenes. A large body of literature has demonstrated contributions of symmetry to numerous domains of visual perception. The four fundamental symmetries, reflection, rotation, translation and glide reflection, can be combined in exactly 17 distinct ways. These textit{wallpaper groups} represent the complete set of symmetries in 2D images. The goal of the current study is to provide a complete description of responses to symmetry in the human visual system, by collecting both brain and behavioral data using all 17 groups. This allows us to probe the hierarchy of complexity among wallpaper groups, in which simpler groups are subgroups of more complex ones. We find that this hierarchy is preserved almost perfectly in both behavior and brain activity: A multi-level Bayesian GLM indicates that for most of the 63 subgroup relationships, subgroups produce lower amplitude responses in visual cortex (posterior probability: >0.95 for 56 of 63) and require longer presentation durations to be reliably detected (posterior probability: >0.95 for 49 of 63). This systematic pattern is seen only in visual cortex and only in components of the brain response known to be symmetric-specific. Our results show that representations of symmetries in the human brain are precise and rich in detail, and that this precision is reflected in behavior. These findings expand our understanding of symmetry perception and open up new avenues for research on how fine-grained representations of regular textures contribute to natural vision.

 bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience

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