Scene Perception in the Human Brain

Annu Rev Vis Sci. 2019 Sep 15;5:373-397. doi: 10.1146/annurev-vision-091718-014809. Epub 2019 Jun 21.


Humans are remarkably adept at perceiving and understanding complex real-world scenes. Uncovering the neural basis of this ability is an important goal of vision science. Neuroimaging studies have identified three cortical regions that respond selectively to scenes: parahippocampal place area, retrosplenial complex/medial place area, and occipital place area. Here, we review what is known about the visual and functional properties of these brain areas. Scene-selective regions exhibit retinotopic properties and sensitivity to low-level visual features that are characteristic of scenes. They also mediate higher-level representations of layout, objects, and surface properties that allow individual scenes to be recognized and their spatial structure ascertained. Challenges for the future include developing computational models of information processing in scene regions, investigating how these regions support scene perception under ecologically realistic conditions, and understanding how they operate in the context of larger brain networks.

Keywords: functional magnetic resonance imaging; hippocampus; neural networks; spatial navigation; visual cortex; visual recognition.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Occipital Lobe / anatomy & histology
  • Occipital Lobe / physiology
  • Parahippocampal Gyrus / anatomy & histology
  • Parahippocampal Gyrus / physiology
  • Spatial Navigation
  • Visual Cortex / anatomy & histology
  • Visual Cortex / physiology
  • Visual Perception / physiology*