Contrast sensitivity in human visual areas and its relationship to object recognition Academic Article uri icon


  • An important characteristic of visual perception is the fact that object recognition is largely immune to changes in viewing conditions. This invariance is obtained within a sequence of ventral stream visual areas beginning in area V1 and ending in high order occipito-temporal object areas (the lateral occipital complex, LOC). Here we studied whether this transformation could be observed in the contrast response of these areas. Subjects were presented with line drawings of common objects and faces in five different contrast levels (0, 4, 6, 10, and 100%). Our results show that indeed there was a gradual trend of increasing contrast invariance moving from area V1, which manifested high sensitivity to contrast changes, to the LOC, which showed a significantly higher degree of invariance at suprathreshold contrasts (from 10 to 100%). The trend toward increased invariance could be observed for both face and object images; however, it was more complete for the face images, while object images still manifested substantial sensitivity to contrast changes. Control experiments ruled out the involvement of attention effects or hemodynamic "ceiling" in producing the contrast invariance. The transition from V1 to LOC was gradual with areas along the ventral stream becoming increasingly contrast-invariant. These results further stress the hierarchical and gradual nature of the transition from early retinotopic areas to high order ones, in the build-up of abstract object representations.

publication date

  • January 1, 2002