Saliency affects feedforward more than feedback processing in early visual cortex

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Abstract

Early visual cortex activity is influenced by both bottom-up and top-down factors. To investigate the influences of bottom-up (saliency) and top-down (task) factors on different stages of visual processing, we used transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) of areas V1/V2 to induce visual suppression at varying temporal intervals. Subjects were asked to detect and discriminate the color or the orientation of briefly-presented small lines that varied on color saliency based on color contrast with the surround. Regardless of task, color saliency modulated the magnitude of TMS-induced visual suppression, especially at earlier temporal processing intervals that reflect the feedforward stage of visual processing in V1/V2. In a second experiment we found that our color saliency effects were also influenced by an inherent advantage of the color red relative to other hues and that color discrimination difficulty did not affect visual suppression. These results support the notion that early visual processing is stimulus driven and that feedforward and feedback processing encode different types of information about visual scenes. They further suggest that certain hues can be prioritized over others within our visual systems by being more robustly represented during early temporal processing intervals.

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