View from the top: hierarchies and reverse hierarchies in the visual system

Neuron. 2002 Dec 5;36(5):791-804. doi: 10.1016/s0896-6273(02)01091-7.


We propose that explicit vision advances in reverse hierarchical direction, as shown for perceptual learning. Processing along the feedforward hierarchy of areas, leading to increasingly complex representations, is automatic and implicit, while conscious perception begins at the hierarchy's top, gradually returning downward as needed. Thus, our initial conscious percept--vision at a glance--matches a high-level, generalized, categorical scene interpretation, identifying "forest before trees." For later vision with scrutiny, reverse hierarchy routines focus attention to specific, active, low-level units, incorporating into conscious perception detailed information available there. Reverse Hierarchy Theory dissociates between early explicit perception and implicit low-level vision, explaining a variety of phenomena. Feature search "pop-out" is attributed to high areas, where large receptive fields underlie spread attention detecting categorical differences. Search for conjunctions or fine discriminations depends on reentry to low-level specific receptive fields using serial focused attention, consistent with recently reported primary visual cortex effects.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual
  • Vision, Ocular / physiology
  • Visual Cortex / cytology
  • Visual Cortex / physiology
  • Visual Perception / physiology*