A highly selective response to food in human visual cortex revealed by hypothesis-free voxel decomposition


Prior work has identified cortical regions selectively responsive to specific categories of visual stimuli. However, this hypothesis-driven work cannot reveal how prominent these category selectivities are in the overall functional organization of the visual cortex, or what others might exist that scientists have not thought to look for. Furthermore, standard voxel-wise tests cannot detect distinct neural selectivities that coexist within voxels. To overcome these limitations, we used data-driven voxel decomposition methods to identify the main components underlying fMRI responses to thousands of complex photographic images. Our hypothesisneutral analysis rediscovered components selective for faces, places, bodies, and words, validating our method and showing that these selectivities are dominant features of the ventral visual pathway. The analysis also revealed an unexpected component with a distinct anatomical distribution that responded highly selectively to images of food. Alternative accounts based on low- to mid-level visual features, such as color, shape, or texture, failed to account for the food selectivity of this component. High-throughput testing and control experiments with matched stimuli on a highly accurate computational model of this component confirm its selectivity for food. We registered our methods and hypotheses before replicating them on held-out participants and in a novel dataset. These findings demonstrate the power of data-driven methods and show that the dominant neural responses of the ventral visual pathway include not only selectivities for faces, scenes, bodies, and words but also the visually heterogeneous category of food, thus constraining accounts of when and why functional specialization arises in the cortex.

Current Biology
Meenakshi Khosla
Meenakshi Khosla
Assistant Professor of Cognitive Science

My research interests include computational neuroscience, artificial intelligence and large-scale data analysis.