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Trends Cogn Sci. 2009 Apr;13(4):167-74. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2009.01.008. Epub 2009 Mar 9.

Selecting and perceiving multiple visual objects.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Harvard University, 33 Kirkland Street, Room 780, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.


To explain how multiple visual objects are attended and perceived, we propose that our visual system first selects a fixed number of about four objects from a crowded scene based on their spatial information (object individuation) and then encode their details (object identification). We describe the involvement of the inferior intra-parietal sulcus (IPS) in object individuation and the superior IPS and higher visual areas in object identification. Our neural object-file theory synthesizes and extends existing ideas in visual cognition and is supported by behavioral and neuroimaging results. It provides a better understanding of the role of the different parietal areas in encoding visual objects and can explain various forms of capacity-limited processing in visual cognition such as working memory.

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