Neuroimaging studies have identified brain regions that respond preferentially to specific stimulus categories, including 3 areas that activate maximally during viewing of real-world scenes: The parahippocampal place area (PPA), retrosplenial complex (RSC), and transverse occipital sulcus (TOS). Although these findings suggest the existence of regions specialized for scene processing, this interpretation is challenged by recent reports that activity in scene-preferring regions is modulated by properties of isolated single objects. To understand the mechanisms underlying these object-related responses, we collected functional magnetic resonance imaging data while subjects viewed objects rated along 7 dimensions, shown both in isolation and on a scenic background. Consistent with previous reports, we find that scene-preferring regions are sensitive to multiple object properties; however, results of an item analysis suggested just 2 independent factors--visual size and the landmark suitability of the objects--sufficed to explain most of the response. This object-based modulation was found in PPA and RSC irrespective of the presence or absence of a scenic background, but was only observed in TOS for isolated objects. We hypothesize that scene-preferring regions might process both visual qualities unique to scenes and spatial qualities that can appertain to either scenes or objects.
Keywords: fMRI; parahippocampal place area; scene perception; spatial layout; visual context.