Comparing visual representations across human fMRI and computational vision.
Feedforward visual object perception recruits a cortical network that is assumed to be hierarchical, progressing from basic visual features to complete object representations. However, the nature of the intermediate features related to this transformation remains poorly understood. Here, we explore how well different computer vision recognition models account for neural object encoding across the human cortical visual pathway as measured using fMRI. These neural data, collected during the viewing of 60 images of real-world objects, were analyzed with a searchlight procedure as in Kriegeskorte, Goebel, and Bandettini (2006): Within each searchlight sphere, the obtained patterns of neural activity for all 60 objects were compared to model responses for each computer recognition algorithm using representational dissimilarity analysis (Kriegeskorte et al., 2008). Although each of the computer vision methods significantly accounted for some of the neural data, among the different models, the scale invariant feature transform (Lowe, 2004), encoding local visual properties gathered from "interest points," was best able to accurately and consistently account for stimulus representations within the ventral pathway. More generally, when present, significance was observed in regions of the ventral-temporal cortex associated with intermediate-level object perception. Differences in model effectiveness and the neural location of significant matches may be attributable to the fact that each model implements a different featural basis for representing objects (e.g., more holistic or more parts-based). Overall, we conclude that well-known computer vision recognition systems may serve as viable proxies for theories of intermediate visual object representation.