The neural fate of task-irrelevant features in object-based processing

Yaoda Xu
Journal of Neuroscience 2010 October 20, 30 (42): 14020-8
Objects are one of the most fundamental units in visual attentional selection and information processing. Studies have shown that, during object-based processing, all features of an attended object may be encoded together, even when these features are task irrelevant. Some recent studies, however, have failed to find this effect. What determines when object-based processing may or may not occur? In three experiments, observers were asked to encode object colors and the processing of task-irrelevant object shapes was evaluated by measuring functional magnetic resonance imaging responses from a brain area involved in shape representation. Whereas object-based task-irrelevant shape processing was present at low color-encoding load, it was attenuated or even suppressed at high color-encoding load. Moreover, such object-based processing was short-lived and was not sustained over a long delay period. Object-based processing for task-irrelevant features of attended objects thus does exist, as reported previously; but it is transient and its magnitude is determined by the encoding demand of the task-relevant feature.

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