Representation of gravity-aligned scene structure in ventral pathway visual cortex

Siavash Vaziri, Charles E. Connor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


The ventral visual pathway in humans and non-human primates is known to represent object information, including shape and identity [1]. Here, we show the ventral pathway also represents scene structure aligned with the gravitational reference frame in which objects move and interact. We analyzed shape tuning of recently described macaque monkey ventral pathway neurons that prefer scene-like stimuli to objects [2]. Individual neurons did not respond to a single shape class, but to a variety of scene elements that are typically aligned with gravity: large planes in the orientation range of ground surfaces under natural viewing conditions, planes in the orientation range of ceilings, and extended convex and concave edges in the orientation range of wall/floor/ceiling junctions. For a given neuron, these elements tended to share a common alignment in eye-centered coordinates. Thus, each neuron integrated information about multiple gravity-aligned structures as they would be seen from a specific eye and head orientation. This eclectic coding strategy provides only ambiguous information about individual structures but explicit information about the environmental reference frame and the orientation of gravity in egocentric coordinates. In the ventral pathway, this could support perceiving and/or predicting physical events involving objects subject to gravity, recognizing object attributes like animacy based on movement not caused by gravity, and/or stabilizing perception of the world against changes in head orientation [3-5]. Our results, like the recent discovery of object weight representation [6], imply that the ventral pathway is involved not just in recognition, but also in physical understanding of objects and scenes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)766-774
Number of pages9
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Mar 21 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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