Tracking the completion of parts into whole objects: Retinotopic activation in response to illusory figures in the lateral occipital complex.
AbstractIllusory figures demonstrate the visual system's ability to integrate separate parts into coherent, whole objects. The present study was performed to track the neuronal object construction process in human observers, by incrementally manipulating the grouping strength within a given configuration until the emergence of a whole-object representation. Two tasks were employed: First, in the spatial localization task, object completion could facilitate performance and was task-relevant, whereas it was irrelevant in the second, luminance discrimination task. Concurrent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) used spatial localizers to locate brain regions representing task-critical illusory-figure parts to investigate whether the step-wise object construction process would modulate neural activity in these localized brain regions. The results revealed that both V1 and the lateral occipital complex (LOC, with sub-regions LO1 and LO2) were involved in Kanizsa figure processing. However, completion-specific activations were found predominantly in LOC, where neural activity exhibited a modulation in accord with the configuration's grouping strength, whether or not the configuration was relevant to performing the task at hand. Moreover, right LOC activations were confined to LO2 and responded primarily to surface and shape completions, whereas left LOC exhibited activations in both LO1 and LO2 and was related to encoding shape structures with more detail. Together, these results demonstrate that various grouping properties within a visual scene are integrated automatically in LOC, with sub-regions located in different hemispheres specializing in the component sub-processes that render completed objects.