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Visual categorization shapes feature selectivity in the primate temporal cortex


The way that we perceive and interact with objects depends on our previous experience with them. For example, a bird expert is more likely to recognize a bird as a sparrow, a sandpiper or a cockatiel than a non-expert1. Neurons in the inferior temporal cortex have been shown to be important in the representation of visual objects; however, it is unknown which object features are represented and how these representations are affected by categorization training. Here we show that feature selectivity in the macaque inferior temporal cortex is shaped by categorization of objects on the basis of their visual features. Specifically, we recorded from single neurons while monkeys performed a categorization task with two sets of parametric stimuli. Each stimulus set consisted of four varying features, but only two of the four were important for the categorization task (diagnostic features). We found enhanced neuronal representation of the diagnostic features relative to the non-diagnostic ones. These findings demonstrate that stimulus features important for categorization are instantiated in the activity of single units (neurons) in the primate inferior temporal cortex.

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Figure 1: Stimuli and categories.
Figure 2: Example of a neuron showing feature selectivity.
Figure 3: Population average for the neurons tested with the face stimuli.
Figure 4: Representation of the diagnostic features in the neuronal population for faces (a) and fish (b).


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We thank Z. Kourtzi, M. Silver, S. Smirnakis and A. Tolias for comments on the manuscript and discussions. We also thank J. Pauls and D. Sheinberg for help and advice at various stages of the project. This work was supported by the Max Planck Society.

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Correspondence to Natasha Sigala.

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Sigala, N., Logothetis, N. Visual categorization shapes feature selectivity in the primate temporal cortex. Nature 415, 318–320 (2002).

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