Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Object recognition is achieved through neural mechanisms reliant on the activity of distributed neural assemblies that are thought to be coordinated by synchronous firing in the gamma-band range (>20 Hz). An outstanding question focuses on the extent to which the role of gamma oscillations in object recognition is dependent on attention. Attentional mechanisms determine the allocation of perceptual resources to objects in complex scenes biasing the outcome of their mutual competitive interactions. Would object-related enhancements in gamma activity also occur for unattended objects when perceptual resources are traded off to the processing of concurrent visual material? The present electroencephalogram study investigated event-related potentials and evoked (time- and phase-locked) and induced (non-time- and phase-locked to stimulus onset) gamma-band activity (GBA) using a visual discrimination task of low or high perceptual load at fixation. The task was performed while task-irrelevant familiar or unfamiliar objects coappeared in the surrounding central area. Attentional focus was kept at fixation by varying perceptual load between trials; in such conditions, only holistic object processing or low-level perceptual processing, requiring little or no attention, are thought to occur. Although evoked GBA remained unmodulated, induced GBA enhancements, specific to familiar object presentations, were observed, thus providing evidence for cortical visual representation of unattended objects. In addition, the effect was mostly driven by object-specific activity under low load, implying that, in cluttered or complex scenes, attentional selection likely plays a more significant role in object representation.