Erlikhman, G., Caplovitz, G. P. (2017). Decoding information about dynamically occluded objects in visual cortex. NeuroImage, 146, 778-788. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2016.09.024. Epub 2016 Sep 20. PubMed PMID: 27663987; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5322156
During dynamic occlusion, an object passes behind an occluding surface and then later reappears. Even when completely occluded from view, such objects are experienced as continuing to exist or persist behind the occluder even though they are no longer visible. The contents and neural basis of this persistent representation remain poorly understood. Questions remain as to whether there is information maintained about the object itself (i.e. its shape or identity) or non-object-specific information such as its position or velocity as it is tracked behind an occluder, as well as which areas of visual cortex represent such information. Recent studies have found that early visual cortex is activated by “invisible” objects during visual imagery and by unstimulated regions along the path of apparent motion, suggesting that some properties of dynamically occluded objects may also be neurally represented in early visual cortex. We applied functional magnetic resonance imaging in human subjects to examine representations within visual cortex during dynamic occlusion. For gradually occluded, but not for instantly disappearing objects, there was an increase in activity in early visual cortex (V1, V2, and V3). This activity was spatially-specific, corresponding to the occluded location in the visual field. However, the activity did not encode enough information about object identity to discriminate between different kinds of occluded objects (circles vs. stars) using MVPA. In contrast, object identity could be decoded in spatially-specific subregions of higher-order, topographically organized areas such as ventral, lateral, and temporal occipital areas (VO, LO, and TO) as well as the functionally defined LOC and hMT+. These results suggest that early visual cortex may only represent the dynamically occluded object's position or motion path, while later visual areas represent object-specific information.