Cortical surround interactions and perceptual salience via natural scene statistics

Ruben Coen-Cagli, Peter Dayan, Odelia Schwartz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


Spatial context in images induces perceptual phenomena associated with salience and modulates the responses of neurons in primary visual cortex (V1). However, the computational and ecological principles underlying contextual effects are incompletely understood. We introduce a model of natural images that includes grouping and segmentation of neighboring features based on their joint statistics, and we interpret the firing rates of V1 neurons as performing optimal recognition in this model. We show that this leads to a substantial generalization of divisive normalization, a computation that is ubiquitous in many neural areas and systems. A main novelty in our model is that the influence of the context on a target stimulus is determined by their degree of statistical dependence. We optimized the parameters of the model on natural image patches, and then simulated neural and perceptual responses on stimuli used in classical experiments. The model reproduces some rich and complex response patterns observed in V1, such as the contrast dependence, orientation tuning and spatial asymmetry of surround suppression, while also allowing for surround facilitation under conditions of weak stimulation. It also mimics the perceptual salience produced by simple displays, and leads to readily testable predictions. Our results provide a principled account of orientation-based contextual modulation in early vision and its sensitivity to the homogeneity and spatial arrangement of inputs, and lends statistical support to the theory that V1 computes visual salience.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1002405
JournalPLoS Computational Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Ecology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Computational Theory and Mathematics


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