Neurons in visual cortex vary in their orientation selectivity. We measured responses of V1 and V2 cells to orientation mixtures and fit them with a model whose stimulus selectivity arises from the combined effects of filtering, suppression, and response nonlinearity. The model explains the diversity of orientation selectivity with neuron-to-neuron variability in all three mechanisms, of which variability in the orientation bandwidth of linear filtering is the most important. The model also accounts for the cells' diversity of spatial frequency selectivity. Tuning diversity is matched to the needs of visual encoding. The orientation content found in natural scenes is diverse, and neurons with different selectivities are adapted to different stimulus configurations. Single orientations are better encoded by highly selective neurons, while orientation mixtures are better encoded by less selective neurons. A diverse population of neurons therefore provides better overall discrimination capabilities for natural images than any homogeneous population.
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