Prior Knowledge about Objects Determines Neural Color Representation in Human Visual Cortex

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To create subjective experience, our brain must translate physical stimulus input by incorporating prior knowledge and expectations. For example, we perceive color and not wavelength information, and this in part depends on our past experience with colored objects (Hansen et al. 2006;Mitterer and de Ruiter 2008). Here, we investigated the influence of object knowledge on the neural substrates underlying subjective color vision. In a functional magnetic resonance imaging experiment, human subjects viewed a color that lay midway between red and green (ambiguous with respect to its distance from red and green) presented on either typical red (e.g., tomato), typical green (e.g., clover), or semantically meaningless (nonsense) objects. Using decoding techniques, we could predict whether subjects viewed the ambiguous color on typical red or typical green objects based on the neural response of veridical red and green. This shift of neural response for the ambiguous color did not occur for nonsense objects. The modulation of neural responses was observed in visual areas (V3, V4, VO1, lateral occipital complex) involved in color and object processing, as well as frontal areas. This demonstrates that object memory influences wavelength information relatively early in the human visual system to produce subjective color vision.

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