Visual search in depth: The neural correlates of segmenting a display into relevant and irrelevant three-dimensional regions.
Roberts KL., Allen HA., Dent K., Humphreys GW.
Visual perception is facilitated by the ability to selectively attend to relevant parts of the world and to ignore irrelevant regions or features. In visual search tasks, viewers are able to segment displays into relevant and irrelevant items based on a number of factors including the colour, motion, and temporal onset of the target and distractors. Understanding the process by which viewers prioritise relevant parts of a display can provide insights into the effect of top-down control on visual perception. Here, we investigate the behavioural and neural correlates of segmenting a display according to the expected three-dimensional (3D) location of a target. We ask whether this segmentation is based on low-level visual features (e.g. common depth or common surface) or on higher-order representations of 3D regions. Similar response-time benefits and neural activity were obtained when items fell on common surfaces or within depth-defined volumes, and when displays were vertical (such that items shared a common depth/disparity) or were tilted in depth. These similarities indicate that segmenting items according to their 3D location is based on attending to a 3D region, rather than a specific depth or surface. Segmenting the items in depth was mainly associated with increased activation in depth-sensitive parietal regions rather than in depth-sensitive visual regions. We conclude that segmenting items in depth is primarily achieved via higher-order, cue invariant representations rather than through filtering in lower-level perceptual regions.