Relating Visual Production and Recognition of Objects in Human Visual Cortex

J Neurosci. 2020 Feb 19;40(8):1710-1721. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1843-19.2019. Epub 2019 Dec 23.


Drawing is a powerful tool that can be used to convey rich perceptual information about objects in the world. What are the neural mechanisms that enable us to produce a recognizable drawing of an object, and how does this visual production experience influence how this object is represented in the brain? Here we evaluate the hypothesis that producing and recognizing an object recruit a shared neural representation, such that repeatedly drawing the object can enhance its perceptual discriminability in the brain. We scanned human participants (N = 31; 11 male) using fMRI across three phases of a training study: during training, participants repeatedly drew two objects in an alternating sequence on an MR-compatible tablet; before and after training, they viewed these and two other control objects, allowing us to measure the neural representation of each object in visual cortex. We found that: (1) stimulus-evoked representations of objects in visual cortex are recruited during visually cued production of drawings of these objects, even throughout the period when the object cue is no longer present; (2) the object currently being drawn is prioritized in visual cortex during drawing production, while other repeatedly drawn objects are suppressed; and (3) patterns of connectivity between regions in occipital and parietal cortex supported enhanced decoding of the currently drawn object across the training phase, suggesting a potential neural substrate for learning how to transform perceptual representations into representational actions. Together, our study provides novel insight into the functional relationship between visual production and recognition in the brain.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Humans can produce simple line drawings that capture rich information about their perceptual experiences. However, the mechanisms that support this behavior are not well understood. Here we investigate how regions in visual cortex participate in the recognition of an object and the production of a drawing of it. We find that these regions carry diagnostic information about an object in a similar format both during recognition and production, and that practice drawing an object enhances transmission of information about it to downstream regions. Together, our study provides novel insight into the functional relationship between visual production and recognition in the brain.

Keywords: drawing; fMRI; objects; perception and action; ventral stream.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Recognition, Psychology / physiology*
  • Visual Cortex / diagnostic imaging*
  • Visual Cortex / physiology
  • Young Adult