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How are visual inputs transformed into conceptual representations by the human visual system? The contents of human perception, such as objects presented on a visual display, can reliably be decoded from voxel activation patterns in fMRI, and in evoked sensor activations in MEG and EEG. A prevailing question is the extent to which brain activation associated with object categories is due to statistical regularities of visual features within object categories. Here, we assessed the contribution of mid-level features to conceptual category decoding using EEG and a novel fast periodic decoding paradigm. Our study used a stimulus set consisting of intact objects from the animate (e.g., fish) and inanimate categories (e.g., chair) and scrambled versions of the same objects that were unrecognizable and preserved their visual features (Long et al., 2018). By presenting the images at different periodic rates, we biased processing to different levels of the visual hierarchy. We found that scrambled objects and their intact counterparts elicited similar patterns of activation, which could be used to decode the conceptual category (animate or inanimate), even for the unrecognizable scrambled objects. Animacy decoding for the scrambled objects, however, was only possible at the slowest periodic presentation rate. Animacy decoding for intact objects was faster, more robust, and could be achieved at faster presentation rates. Our results confirm that the mid-level visual features preserved in the scrambled objects contribute to animacy decoding, but also demonstrate that the dynamics vary markedly for intact versus scrambled objects. Our findings suggest a complex interplay between visual feature coding and categorical representations that is mediated by the visual system's capacity to use image features to resolve a recognisable object.

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