Humans prioritize different semantic qualities of a complex stimulus depending on their behavioral goals. These semantic features are encoded in distributed neural populations, yet it is unclear how attention might operate across these distributed representations. To address this, we presented participants with naturalistic video clips of animals behaving in their natural environments while the participants attended to either behavior or taxonomy. We used models of representational geometry to investigate how attentional allocation affects the distributed neural representation of animal behavior and taxonomy. Attending to animal behavior transiently increased the discriminability of distributed population codes for observed actions in anterior intraparietal, pericentral, and ventral temporal cortices. Attending to animal taxonomy while viewing the same stimuli increased the discriminability of distributed animal category representations in ventral temporal cortex. For both tasks, attention selectively enhanced the discriminability of response patterns along behaviorally relevant dimensions. These findings suggest that behavioral goals alter how the brain extracts semantic features from the visual world. Attention effectively disentangles population responses for downstream read-out by sculpting representational geometry in late-stage perceptual areas.
Keywords: MVPA; categorization; fMRI; natural vision; neural decoding.
© The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press.