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Jonathan S. Cant, Sol Z. Sun, Yaoda Xu; Distinct cognitive mechanisms involved in the processing of single objects and object ensembles. Journal of Vision 2015;15(4):12. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/15.4.12.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
Behavioral research has demonstrated that the shape and texture of single objects can be processed independently. Similarly, neuroimaging results have shown that an object's shape and texture are processed in distinct brain regions with shape in the lateral occipital area and texture in parahippocampal cortex. Meanwhile, objects are not always seen in isolation and are often grouped together as an ensemble. We recently showed that the processing of ensembles also involves parahippocampal cortex and that the shape and texture of ensemble elements are processed together within this region. These neural data suggest that the independence seen between shape and texture in single-object perception would not be observed in object-ensemble perception. Here we tested this prediction by examining whether observers could attend to the shape of ensemble elements while ignoring changes in an unattended texture feature and vice versa. Across six behavioral experiments, we replicated previous findings of independence between shape and texture in single-object perception. In contrast, we observed that changes in an unattended ensemble feature negatively impacted the processing of an attended ensemble feature only when ensemble features were attended globally. When they were attended locally, thereby making ensemble processing similar to single-object processing, interference was abolished. Overall, these findings confirm previous neuroimaging results and suggest that distinct cognitive mechanisms may be involved in single-object and object-ensemble perception. Additionally, they show that the scope of visual attention plays a critical role in determining which type of object processing (ensemble or single object) is engaged by the visual system.
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