A hierarchical axis of object processing stages in the human visual cortex

Yulia Lerner*, Talma Hendler, Dafna Ben-Bashat, Mishal Harel, Rafael Malach

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


How are objects represented in the human visual cortex? Two conflicting theories suggest either a holistic representation, in which objects are represented by a collection of object templates, or a part-based representation, in which objects are represented as collections of features or object parts. We studied this question using a gradual object, scrambling paradigm in which pictures of objects (faces and cars) were broken in a stepwise manner into an increasing number of blocks, Our results reveal a hierarchical axis oriented anterior-posteriorly in the organization of ventral object-areas. Along this axis, representations are arranged in bands of increasing sensitivity to image scrambling. The axis starts in early visual areas through retinotopic areas V4/V8 and continues into tho lateral-occipital sulcus dorsally and the posterior fusiform girus ventrally, corresponding together to the previously described object-related lateral occipital complex (LOC). Regions showing the highest sensitivity to scrambling tended to be located at the most anterior-lateral regions of the complex. In these more anterior regions, breaking the images into 16 parts produced a significant reduction in activation. Interestingly, activation was not affected when images were cut in two halves, either horizontally or vertically. Car images generally produced a weaker activation compared to faces in the lateral occipital complex but showed the same tendency of increased scrambling sensitivity along the anterior-posterior axis. These results suggest the existence of a hierarchical axis along ventral occipito-temporal object-areas, in which the neuronal properties shift from sensitivity to local object features to a more global and holistic representation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)287-297
Number of pages11
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes


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