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Curr Biol. 2011 Oct 11;21(19):1667-71. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2011.08.039. Epub 2011 Sep 29.

Decoding successive computational stages of saliency processing.

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Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience Berlin, Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin, 10115 Berlin, Germany.


An important requirement for vision is to identify interesting and relevant regions of the environment for further processing. Some models assume that salient locations from a visual scene are encoded in a dedicated spatial saliency map [1, 2]. Then, a winner-take-all (WTA) mechanism [1, 2] is often believed to threshold the graded saliency representation and identify the most salient position in the visual field. Here we aimed to assess whether neural representations of graded saliency and the subsequent WTA mechanism can be dissociated. We presented images of natural scenes while subjects were in a scanner performing a demanding fixation task, and thus their attention was directed away. Signals in early visual cortex and posterior intraparietal sulcus (IPS) correlated with graded saliency as defined by a computational saliency model. Multivariate pattern classification [3, 4] revealed that the most salient position in the visual field was encoded in anterior IPS and frontal eye fields (FEF), thus reflecting a potential WTA stage. Our results thus confirm that graded saliency and WTA-thresholded saliency are encoded in distinct neural structures. This could provide the neural representation required for rapid and automatic orientation toward salient events in natural environments.

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