Receptive field (RF) models are an important tool for deciphering neural responses to sensory stimuli. The two currently popular RF models are multifilter linear-nonlinear (LN) models and context models. Models are, however, never correct, and they rely on assumptions to keep them simple enough to be interpretable. As a consequence, different models describe different stimulus-response mappings, which may or may not be good approximations of real neural behavior. In the current study, we take up two tasks: 1) we introduce new ways to estimate context models with realistic nonlinearities, that is, with logistic and exponential functions, and 2) we evaluate context models and multifilter LN models in terms of how well they describe recorded data from complex cells in cat primary visual cortex. Our results, based on single-spike information and correlation coefficients, indicate that context models outperform corresponding multifilter LN models of equal complexity (measured in terms of number of parameters), with the best increase in performance being achieved by the novel context models. Consequently, our results suggest that the multifilter LN-model framework is suboptimal for describing the behavior of complex cells: the context-model framework is clearly superior while still providing interpretable quantizations of neural behavior. NEW & NOTEWORTHY We used data from complex cells in primary visual cortex to estimate a wide variety of receptive field models from two frameworks that have previously not been compared with each other. The models included traditionally used multifilter linear-nonlinear models and novel variants of context models. Using mutual information and correlation coefficients as performance measures, we showed that context models are superior for describing complex cells and that the novel context models performed the best.
Keywords: LN model; complex cell; context model; receptive field; stimulus-response mapping.