Journal of Neuroscience vol:23 issue:7 pages:3016-3027
Neurons in the inferior temporal cortex (IT) of the macaque fire more strongly to some shapes than others, but little is known about how to characterize this shape tuning more generally, because most previous studies have used somewhat arbitrary variations in the stimuli with unspecified magnitudes of the changes. The present investigation studied the modulation of IT cells to nonaccidental property (NAP, i.e., invariant to orientations in depth) and metric property (MP, i.e., depth dependent) variations of dimensions of generalized cones (a general formalism for characterizing shapes hypothesized to mediate object recognition). Changes in an NAP resulted in greater neuronal modulation than equally large pixel-wise changes in an MP (including those consisting of a rotation in depth). There was also precise and highly systematic neuronal tuning to the quantitative variations of MPs along specific dimensions to which a neuron was sensitive. The NAP advantage was independent of whether the object was composed of only a single part or had two parts. These findings indicate that qualitative shape changes such as NAPs help explain the surplus amount of IT shape sensitivity that cannot be accounted for on the basis of metric or pixel-based changes alone. This NAP advantage may provide the neural basis for the greater detectability of NAP compared with MP changes in human psychophysics.