The perception of complex visual patterns emerges from neuronal activity in a cascade of areas in the primate cerebral cortex. We have probed the early stages of this cascade with "naturalistic" texture stimuli designed to capture key statistical features of natural images. Humans can recognize and classify these synthetic images and are insensitive to distortions that do not alter the local values of these statistics. The responses of neurons in the primary visual cortex, V1, are relatively insensitive to the statistical information in these textures. However, in the area immediately downstream, V2, cells respond more vigorously to these stimuli than to matched control stimuli. Humans show blood-oxygen-level-dependent functional magnetic resonance imaging (BOLD fMRI responses in V1 and V2) that are consistent with the neuronal measurements in macaque. These fMRI measurements, as well as neurophysiological work by others, show that true natural scenes become a more prominent driving feature of cortex downstream from V2. These results suggest a framework for thinking about how information about elementary visual features is transformed into the specific representations of scenes and objects found in areas higher in the visual pathway.
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