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J Vis. 2014 Feb 3;14(2). pii: 1. doi: 10.1167/14.2.1.

Optimal disparity estimation in natural stereo images.

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Center for Perceptual Systems and Department of Psychology, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX, USA.


A great challenge of systems neuroscience is to understand the computations that underlie perceptual constancies, the ability to represent behaviorally relevant stimulus properties as constant even when irrelevant stimulus properties vary. As signals proceed through the visual system, neural states become more selective for properties of the environment, and more invariant to irrelevant features of the retinal images. Here, we describe a method for determining the computations that perform these transformations optimally, and apply it to the specific computational task of estimating a powerful depth cue: binocular disparity. We simultaneously determine the optimal receptive field population for encoding natural stereo images of locally planar surfaces and the optimal nonlinear units for decoding the population responses into estimates of disparity. The optimal processing predicts well-established properties of neurons in cortex. Estimation performance parallels important aspects of human performance. Thus, by analyzing the photoreceptor responses to natural images, we provide a normative account of the neurophysiology and psychophysics of absolute disparity processing. Critically, the optimal processing rules are not arbitrarily chosen to match the properties of neurophysiological processing, nor are they fit to match behavioral performance. Rather, they are dictated by the task-relevant statistical properties of complex natural stimuli. Our approach reveals how selective invariant tuning-especially for properties not trivially available in the retinal images-could be implemented in neural systems to maximize performance in particular tasks.


Bayesian statistics; complex cells; decoding; depth perception; disparity energy model; encoding; hierarchical model; ideal observer; invariance; natural scene statistics; perceptual constancy; population code; selectivity; simple cells; stereopsis

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