Recent advances in understanding object recognition in the human brain: deep neural networks, temporal dynamics, and context

F1000Res. 2020 Jun 11;9:F1000 Faculty Rev-590. doi: 10.12688/f1000research.22296.1. eCollection 2020.


Object recognition is the ability to identify an object or category based on the combination of visual features observed. It is a remarkable feat of the human brain, given that the patterns of light received by the eye associated with the properties of a given object vary widely with simple changes in viewing angle, ambient lighting, and distance. Furthermore, different exemplars of a specific object category can vary widely in visual appearance, such that successful categorization requires generalization across disparate visual features. In this review, we discuss recent advances in understanding the neural representations underlying object recognition in the human brain. We highlight three current trends in the approach towards this goal within the field of cognitive neuroscience. Firstly, we consider the influence of deep neural networks both as potential models of object vision and in how their representations relate to those in the human brain. Secondly, we review the contribution that time-series neuroimaging methods have made towards understanding the temporal dynamics of object representations beyond their spatial organization within different brain regions. Finally, we argue that an increasing emphasis on the context (both visual and task) within which object recognition occurs has led to a broader conceptualization of what constitutes an object representation for the brain. We conclude by identifying some current challenges facing the experimental pursuit of understanding object recognition and outline some emerging directions that are likely to yield new insight into this complex cognitive process.

Keywords: DNN; MEG; fMRI; human vision; object recognition; visual perception.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Brain*
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Humans
  • Neural Networks, Computer
  • Time Factors
  • Visual Perception