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J Neurosci. 1995 Feb;15(2):1605-15.

The neurophysiology of figure-ground segregation in primary visual cortex.

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  • Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge 02139.


The activity of neurons in the primary visual cortex of the awake macaque monkey was recorded while the animals were viewing full screen arrays of either oriented line segments or moving random dots. A square patch of the screen was made to perceptually pop out as a circumscribed figure by virtue of differences between the orientation or the direction of motion of the texture elements within that patch and the surround. The animals were trained to identify the figure patches by making saccadic eye movements towards their positions. Almost every cell gave a significantly larger response to elements belonging to the figure than to similar elements belonging to the background. The figure-ground response enhancement was present along the entire extent of the patch and was absent as soon as the receptive field was outside the patch. The strength of the effect had no relation with classical receptive field properties like orientation or direction selectivity or receptive field size. The response enhancement had a latency of 30-40 msec relative to the onset of the neuronal response itself. The results show that context modulation within primary visual cortex has a highly sophisticated nature, putting the image features the cells are responding to into their fully evaluated perceptual context.

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