The occipital place area represents the local elements of scenes

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Abstract

Neuroimaging studies have identified three scene-selective regions in human cortex: parahippocampal place area (PPA), retrosplenial complex (RSC), and occipital place area (OPA). However, precisely what scene information each region represents is not clear, especially for the least studied, more posterior OPA. Here we hypothesized that OPA represents local elements of scenes within two independent, yet complementary scene descriptors: spatial boundary (i.e., the layout of external surfaces) and scene content (e.g., internal objects). If OPA processes the local elements of spatial boundary information, then it should respond to these local elements (e.g., walls) themselves, regardless of their spatial arrangement. Indeed, we found that OPA, but not PPA or RSC, responded similarly to images of intact rooms and these same rooms in which the surfaces were fractured and rearranged, disrupting the spatial boundary. Next, if OPA represents the local elements of scene content information, then it should respond more when more such local elements (e.g., furniture) are present. Indeed, we found that OPA, but not PPA or RSC, responded more to multiple than single pieces of furniture. Taken together, these findings reveal that OPA analyzes local scene elements – both in spatial boundary and scene content representation – while PPA and RSC represent global scene properties.

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