The Role of Competitive Inhibition and Top-Down Feedback in Binding during Object Recognition

Front Psychol. 2012 Jun 18;3:182. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00182. eCollection 2012.


How does the brain bind together visual features that are processed concurrently by different neurons into a unified percept suitable for processes such as object recognition? Here, we describe how simple, commonly accepted principles of neural processing can interact over time to solve the brain's binding problem. We focus on mechanisms of neural inhibition and top-down feedback. Specifically, we describe how inhibition creates competition among neural populations that code different features, effectively suppressing irrelevant information, and thus minimizing illusory conjunctions. Top-down feedback contributes to binding in a similar manner, but by reinforcing relevant features. Together, inhibition and top-down feedback contribute to a competitive environment that ensures only the most appropriate features are bound together. We demonstrate this overall proposal using a biologically realistic neural model of vision that processes features across a hierarchy of interconnected brain areas. Finally, we argue that temporal synchrony plays only a limited role in binding - it does not simultaneously bind multiple objects, but does aid in creating additional contrast between relevant and irrelevant features. Thus, our overall theory constitutes a solution to the binding problem that relies only on simple neural principles without any binding-specific processes.

Keywords: binding; competitive inhibition; computational model; feedback; object recognition.