Color statistics of objects, and color tuning of object cortex in macaque monkey

J Vis. 2018 Oct 1;18(11):1. doi: 10.1167/18.11.1.


We hypothesized that the parts of scenes identified by human observers as "objects" show distinct color properties from backgrounds, and that the brain uses this information towards object recognition. To test this hypothesis, we examined the color statistics of naturally and artificially colored objects and backgrounds in a database of over 20,000 images annotated with object labels. Objects tended to be warmer colored (L-cone response > M-cone response) and more saturated compared to backgrounds. That the distinguishing chromatic property of objects was defined mostly by the L-M post-receptoral mechanism, rather than the S mechanism, is consistent with the idea that trichromatic color vision evolved in response to a selective pressure to identify objects. We also show that classifiers trained using only color information could distinguish animate versus inanimate objects, and at a performance level that was comparable to classification using shape features. Animate/inanimate is considered a fundamental superordinate category distinction, previously thought to be computed by the brain using only shape information. Our results show that color could contribute to animate/inanimate, and likely other, object-category assignments. Finally, color-tuning measured in two macaque monkeys with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), and confirmed by fMRI-guided microelectrode recording, supports the idea that responsiveness to color reflects the global functional organization of inferior temporal cortex, the brain region implicated in object vision. More strongly in IT than in V1, colors associated with objects elicited higher responses than colors less often associated with objects.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Color Vision / physiology*
  • Color*
  • Macaca
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Retinal Cone Photoreceptor Cells / physiology*
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*