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Neuron. 2012 Jul 12;75(1):143-56. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2012.04.032.

The role of attention in figure-ground segregation in areas V1 and V4 of the visual cortex.

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Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience, an institute of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


Our visual system segments images into objects and background. Figure-ground segregation relies on the detection of feature discontinuities that signal boundaries between the figures and the background and on a complementary region-filling process that groups together image regions with similar features. The neuronal mechanisms for these processes are not well understood and it is unknown how they depend on visual attention. We measured neuronal activity in V1 and V4 in a task where monkeys either made an eye movement to texture-defined figures or ignored them. V1 activity predicted the timing and the direction of the saccade if the figures were task relevant. We found that boundary detection is an early process that depends little on attention, whereas region filling occurs later and is facilitated by visual attention, which acts in an object-based manner. Our findings are explained by a model with local, bottom-up computations for boundary detection and feedback processing for region filling.

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