Temporal brain dynamics of multiple object processing: the flexibility of individuation

Veronica Mazza, Alfonso Caramazza
PloS One 2011, 6 (2): e17453
The ability to process concurrently multiple visual objects is fundamental for a coherent perception of the world. A core component of this ability is the simultaneous individuation of multiple objects. Many studies have addressed the mechanism of object individuation but it remains unknown whether the visual system mandatorily individuates all relevant elements in the visual field, or whether object indexing depends on task demands. We used a neural measure of visual selection, the N2pc component, to evaluate the flexibility of multiple object individuation. In three ERP experiments, participants saw a variable number of target elements among homogenous distracters and performed either an enumeration task (Experiment 1) or a detection task, reporting whether at least one (Experiment 2) or a specified number of target elements (Experiment 3) was present. While in the enumeration task the N2pc response increased as a function of the number of targets, no such modulation was found in Experiment 2, indicating that individuation of multiple targets is not mandatory. However, a modulation of the N2pc similar to the enumeration task was visible in Experiment 3, further highlighting that object individuation is a flexible mechanism that binds indexes to object properties and locations as needed for further object processing.

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