Human visual perception is both stable and adaptive. Perception of complex objects, such as faces, is shaped by the long-term average of experience as well as immediate, comparative context. Measurements of brain activity have demonstrated corresponding neural mechanisms, including norm-based responses reflective of stored prototype representations, and adaptation induced by the immediately preceding stimulus. Here, we consider the possibility that these apparently separate phenomena can arise from a single mechanism of sensory integration operating over varying timescales. We used fMRI to measure neural responses from the fusiform gyrus while subjects observed a rapid stream of face stimuli. Neural activity at this cortical site was best explained by the integration of sensory experience over multiple sequential stimuli, following a decaying-exponential weighting function. Although this neural activity could be mistaken for immediate neural adaptation or long-term, norm-based responses, it in fact reflected a timescale of integration intermediate to both. We then examined the timescale of sensory integration across the cortex. We found a gradient that ranged from rapid sensory integration in early visual areas, to long-term, stable representations in higher-level, ventral-temporal cortex. These findings were replicated with a new set of face stimuli and subjects. Our results suggest that a cascade of visual areas integrate sensory experience, transforming highly adaptable responses at early stages to stable representations at higher levels.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)