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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

February 2012, Vol. 24, No. 2, Pages 521-529
(doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_00100)
© 2011 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The Rapid Extraction of Gist—Early Neural Correlates of High-level Visual Processing
Article PDF (317.75 KB)

The human cognitive system is highly efficient in extracting information from our visual environment. This efficiency is based on acquired knowledge that guides our attention toward relevant events and promotes the recognition of individual objects as they appear in visual scenes. The experience-based representation of such knowledge contains not only information about the individual objects but also about relations between them, such as the typical context in which individual objects co-occur. The present EEG study aimed at exploring the availability of such relational knowledge in the time course of visual scene processing, using oscillatory evoked gamma-band responses as a neural correlate for a currently activated cortical stimulus representation. Participants decided whether two simultaneously presented objects were conceptually coherent (e.g., mouse–cheese) or not (e.g., crown–mushroom). We obtained increased evoked gamma-band responses for coherent scenes compared with incoherent scenes beginning as early as 70 msec after stimulus onset within a distributed cortical network, including the right temporal, the right frontal, and the bilateral occipital cortex. This finding provides empirical evidence for the functional importance of evoked oscillatory activity in high-level vision beyond the visual cortex and, thus, gives new insights into the functional relevance of neuronal interactions. It also indicates the very early availability of experience-based knowledge that might be regarded as a fundamental mechanism for the rapid extraction of the gist of a scene.