Imaging object-scene relations processing in visible and invisible natural scenes


Integrating objects with their context is a key step in interpreting complex visual scenes. Here, we used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) while participants viewed visual scenes depicting a person performing an action with an object that was either congruent or incongruent with the scene. Univariate and multivariate analyses revealed different activity for congruent vs. incongruent scenes in the lateral occipital complex, inferior temporal cortex, parahippocampal cortex, and prefrontal cortex. Importantly, and in contrast to previous studies, these activations could not be explained by task-induced conflict. A secondary goal of this study was to examine whether processing of object-context relations could occur in the absence of awareness. We found no evidence for brain activity differentiating between congruent and incongruent invisible masked scenes, which might reflect a genuine lack of activation, or stem from the limitations of our study. Overall, our results provide novel support for the roles of parahippocampal cortex and frontal areas in conscious processing of object-context relations, which cannot be explained by either low-level differences or task demands. Yet they further suggest that brain activity is decreased by visual masking to the point of becoming undetectable with our fMRI protocol.

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