The stages of integration leading from local feature analysis to object recognition were explored in human visual cortex by using the technique of functional magnetic resonance imaging. Here we report evidence for object-related activation. Such activation was located at the lateral-posterior aspect of the occipital lobe, just abutting the posterior aspect of the motion-sensitive area MT/V5, in a region termed the lateral occipital complex (LO). LO showed preferential activation to images of objects, compared to a wide range of texture patterns. This activation was not caused by a global difference in the Fourier spatial frequency content of objects versus texture images, since object images produced enhanced LO activation compared to textures matched in power spectra but randomized in phase. The preferential activation to objects also could not be explained by different patterns of eye movements: similar levels of activation were observed when subjects fixated on the objects and when they scanned the objects with their eyes. Additional manipulations such as spatial frequency filtering and a 4-fold change in visual size did not affect LO activation. These results suggest that the enhanced responses to objects were not a manifestation of low-level visual processing. A striking demonstration that activity in LO is uniquely correlated to object detectability was produced by the "Lincoln" illusion, in which blurring of objects digitized into large blocks paradoxically increases their recognizability. Such blurring led to significant enhancement of LO activation. Despite the preferential activation to objects, LO did not seem to be involved in the final, "semantic," stages of the recognition process. Thus, objects varying widely in their recognizability (e.g., famous faces, common objects, and unfamiliar three-dimensional abstract sculptures) activated it to a similar degree. These results are thus evidence for an intermediate link in the chain of processing stages leading to object recognition in human visual cortex.
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