Visual perception depends strongly on spatial context. A profound example is visual crowding, whereby the presence of nearby stimuli impairs the discriminability of object features. Despite extensive work on perceptual crowding and the spatial integrative properties of visual cortical neurons, the link between these two aspects of visual processing remains unclear. To understand better the neural basis of crowding, we recorded activity simultaneously from neuronal populations in V1 and V4 of fixating macaque monkeys. We assessed the information available from the measured responses about the orientation of a visual target both for targets presented in isolation and amid distractors. Both single neuron and population responses had less information about target orientation when distractors were present. Information loss was moderate in V1 and more substantial in V4. Information loss could be traced to systematic divisive and additive changes in neuronal tuning. Additive and multiplicative changes in tuning were more severe in V4; in addition, tuning exhibited other, non-affine transformations that were greater in V4, further restricting the ability of a fixed sensory readout strategy to extract accurate feature information across displays. Our results provide a direct test of crowding effects at different stages of the visual hierarchy. They reveal how crowded visual environments alter the spiking activity of cortical populations by which sensory stimuli are encoded and connect these changes to established mechanisms of neuronal spatial integration.
- population decoding
- spatial context
- spatial integration
- visual cortex
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)