Neurons in primary visual cortex (V1) can be indirectly affected by visual stimulation positioned outside their receptive fields. Although this contextual modulation has been intensely studied, we have little notion of how it manifests with naturalistic stimulation. Here, we investigated how the V1 response to a natural image fragment is affected by spatial context that is consistent or inconsistent with the scene from which it was extracted. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging at 7 T, we measured the blood oxygen level-dependent signal in human V1 (n = 8) while participants viewed an array of apertures. Most apertures showed fragments from a single scene, yielding a dominant perceptual interpretation which participants were asked to categorize, and the remaining apertures each showed fragments drawn from a set of 20 scenes. We find that the V1 response was significantly increased for apertures showing image structure that was coherent with the dominant scene relative to the response to the same image structure when it was non-coherent. Additional analyses suggest that this effect was mostly evident for apertures in the periphery of the visual field, that it peaked towards the centre of the aperture, and that it peaked in the middle to superficial regions of the cortical grey matter. These findings suggest that knowledge of typical spatial relationships is embedded in the circuitry of contextual modulation. Such mechanisms, possibly augmented by contributions from attentional factors, serve to increase the local V1 activity under conditions of contextual consistency.
Keywords: V1; context; fMRI; scene perception; surround suppression; visual cortex.
© 2015 Federation of European Neuroscience Societies and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.