Visual Prediction Error Spreads Across Object Features in Human Visual Cortex.
Jiang J., Summerfield C., Egner T.
Visual cognition is thought to rely heavily on contextual expectations. Accordingly, previous studies have revealed distinct neural signatures for expected versus unexpected stimuli in visual cortex. However, it is presently unknown how the brain combines multiple concurrent stimulus expectations such as those we have for different features of a familiar object. To understand how an unexpected object feature affects the simultaneous processing of other expected feature(s), we combined human fMRI with a task that independently manipulated expectations for color and motion features of moving-dot stimuli. Behavioral data and neural signals from visual cortex were then interrogated to adjudicate between three possible ways in which prediction error (surprise) in the processing of one feature might affect the concurrent processing of another, expected feature: (1) feature processing may be independent; (2) surprise might "spread" from the unexpected to the expected feature, rendering the entire object unexpected; or (3) pairing a surprising feature with an expected feature might promote the inference that the two features are not in fact part of the same object. To formalize these rival hypotheses, we implemented them in a simple computational model of multifeature expectations. Across a range of analyses, behavior and visual neural signals consistently supported a model that assumes a mixing of prediction error signals across features: surprise in one object feature spreads to its other feature(s), thus rendering the entire object unexpected. These results reveal neurocomputational principles of multifeature expectations and indicate that objects are the unit of selection for predictive vision. SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT: We address a key question in predictive visual cognition: how does the brain combine multiple concurrent expectations for different features of a single object such as its color and motion trajectory? By combining a behavioral protocol that independently varies expectation of (and attention to) multiple object features with computational modeling and fMRI, we demonstrate that behavior and fMRI activity patterns in visual cortex are best accounted for by a model in which prediction error in one object feature spreads to other object features. These results demonstrate how predictive vision forms object-level expectations out of multiple independent features.