Integration trumps selection in object recognition

Toni P. Saarela, Michael S. Landy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Finding and recognizing objects is a fundamental task of vision. Objects can be defined by several "cues" (color, luminance, texture, etc.), and humans can integrate sensory cues to improve detection and recognition [1-3]. Cortical mechanisms fuse information from multiple cues [4], and shape-selective neural mechanisms can display cue invariance by responding to a given shape independent of the visual cue defining it [5-8]. Selective attention, in contrast, improves recognition by isolating a subset of the visual information [9]. Humans can select single features (red or vertical) within a perceptual dimension (color or orientation), giving faster and more accurate responses to items having the attended feature [10, 11]. Attention elevates neural responses and sharpens neural tuning to the attended feature, as shown by studies in psychophysics and modeling [11, 12], imaging [13-16], and single-cell and neural population recordings [17, 18]. Besides single features, attention can select whole objects [19-21]. Objects are among the suggested "units" of attention because attention to a single feature of an object causes the selection of all of its features [19-21]. Here, we pit integration against attentional selection in object recognition. We find, first, that humans can integrate information near optimally from several perceptual dimensions (color, texture, luminance) to improve recognition. They cannot, however, isolate a single dimension even when the other dimensions provide task-irrelevant, potentially conflicting information. For object recognition, it appears that there is mandatory integration of information from multiple dimensions of visual experience. The advantage afforded by this integration, however, comes at the expense of attentional selection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)920-927
Number of pages8
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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