Signposts in the fog: Objects facilitate scene representations in left scene-selective cortex
We internally represent the structure of our surroundings even when there is little layout information available in the visual image, such as when walking through fog or darkness. One way in which we disambiguate such scenes is through object cues; for example, seeing a boat supports the inference that the foggy scene is a lake. Recent studies have investigated the neural mechanisms by which object and scene processing interact to support object perception. The current study examines the
... interaction, by which objects facilitate the neural representation of scene layout. Photographs of indoor (closed) and outdoor (open) real-world scenes were blurred such that they were difficult to categorize on their own, but easily disambiguated by the inclusion of an object. fMRI decoding was used to measure scene representations in scene-selective parahippocampal place area (PPA) and occipital place area (OPA). Classifiers were trained to distinguish response patterns to fully visible indoor and outdoor scenes, presented in an independent experiment. Testing these classifiers on blurred scenes revealed a strong improvement in classification in left PPA and OPA when objects were present, despite the reduced low-level visual feature overlap with the training set in this condition. These findings were specific to left PPA/OPA, with no evidence for object-driven facilitation in right PPA/OPA, object-selective areas, and early visual cortex. These findings demonstrate separate roles for left and right scene-selective cortex in scene representation, whereby left PPA/OPA represents inferred scene layout, influenced by contextual object cues, and right PPA/OPA represents a scene's visual features.