Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Many everyday activities, such as driving on a busy street, require the encoding of distinctive visual objects from crowded scenes. Given resource limitations of our visual system, one solution to this difficult and challenging task is to first select individual objects from a crowded scene (object individuation) and then encode their details (object identification). Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, two distinctive brain mechanisms were recently identified that support these two stages of visual object processing. While the inferior intraparietal sulcus (IPS) selects a fixed number of about four objects via their spatial locations, the superior IPS and the lateral occipital complex (LOC) encode the features of a subset of the selected objects in great detail (object shapes in this case). Thus, the inferior IPS individuates visual objects from a crowded display and the superior IPS and higher visual areas participate in subsequent object identification. Consistent with the prediction of this theory, even when only object shape identity but not its location is task relevant, this study shows that object individuation in the inferior IPS treats four identical objects similarly as four objects that are all different, whereas object shape identification in the superior IPS and the LOC treat four identical objects as a single unique object. These results provide independent confirmation supporting the dissociation between visual object individuation and identification in the brain.