A quantitative theory of immediate visual recognition

Prog Brain Res. 2007;165:33-56. doi: 10.1016/S0079-6123(06)65004-8.


Human and non-human primates excel at visual recognition tasks. The primate visual system exhibits a strong degree of selectivity while at the same time being robust to changes in the input image. We have developed a quantitative theory to account for the computations performed by the feedforward path in the ventral stream of the primate visual cortex. Here we review recent predictions by a model instantiating the theory about physiological observations in higher visual areas. We also show that the model can perform recognition tasks on datasets of complex natural images at a level comparable to psychophysical measurements on human observers during rapid categorization tasks. In sum, the evidence suggests that the theory may provide a framework to explain the first 100-150 ms of visual object recognition. The model also constitutes a vivid example of how computational models can interact with experimental observations in order to advance our understanding of a complex phenomenon. We conclude by suggesting a number of open questions, predictions, and specific experiments for visual physiology and psychophysics.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Computer Simulation
  • Field Dependence-Independence
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological*
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Psychophysics
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*