Scientific Understanding of Consciousness
Consciousness as an Emergent Property of Thalamocortical Activity

Modularity of Categorization in Parietal Cortex



Nature, Vol 443, 7 September 2006, p.85.

Experience-dependent representation of visual categories in parietal cortex

David J. Freedman and John A. Assad

Department of Neurobiology, Harvard Medical School, 220 Longwood Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA

Categorization is a process by which the brain assigns meaning to sensory stimuli. Through experience, we learn to group stimuli into categories, such as 'chair', 'table' and 'vehicle', which are critical for rapidly and appropriately selecting behavioural responses. Although much is known about the neural representation of simple visual stimulus features (for example, orientation, direction and colour), relatively little is known about how the brain learns and encodes the meaning of stimuli. We trained monkeys to classify 360° of visual motion directions into two discrete categories, and compared neuronal activity in the lateral intraparietal (LIP) and middle temporal (MT) areas, two interconnected brain regions known to be involved in visual motion processing. Here we show that neurons in LIP—an area known to be centrally involved in visuo-spatial attention, motor planning and decision-making—robustly reflect the category of motion direction as a result of learning. The activity of LIP neurons encoded directions of motion according to their category membership, and that encoding shifted after the monkeys were retrained to group the same stimuli into two new categories. In contrast, neurons in area MT were strongly direction selective but carried little, if any, explicit category information. This indicates that LIP might be an important nexus for the transformation of visual direction selectivity to more abstract representations that encode the behavioural relevance, or meaning, of stimuli.



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