Scene content is predominantly conveyed by high spatial frequencies in scene-selective visual cortex.
ABSTRACT: In complex real-world scenes, image content is conveyed by a large collection of intertwined visual features. The visual system disentangles these features in order to extract information about image content. Here, we investigate the role of one integral component: the content of spatial frequencies in an image. Specifically, we measure the amount of image content carried by low versus high spatial frequencies for the representation of real-world scenes in scene-selective regions of human visual cortex. To this end, we attempted to decode scene categories from the brain activity patterns of participants viewing scene images that contained the full spatial frequency spectrum, only low spatial frequencies, or only high spatial frequencies, all carefully controlled for contrast and luminance. Contrary to the findings from numerous behavioral studies and computational models that have highlighted how low spatial frequencies preferentially encode image content, decoding of scene categories from the scene-selective brain regions, including the parahippocampal place area (PPA), was significantly more accurate for high than low spatial frequency images. In fact, decoding accuracy was just as high for high spatial frequency images as for images containing the full spatial frequency spectrum in scene-selective areas PPA, RSC, OPA and object selective area LOC. We also found an interesting dissociation between the posterior and anterior subdivisions of PPA: categories were decodable from both high and low spatial frequency scenes in posterior PPA but only from high spatial frequency scenes in anterior PPA; and spatial frequency was explicitly decodable from posterior but not anterior PPA. Our results are consistent with recent findings that line drawings, which consist almost entirely of high spatial frequencies, elicit a neural representation of scene categories that is equivalent to that of full-spectrum color photographs. Collectively, these findings demonstrate the importance of high spatial frequencies for conveying the content of complex real-world scenes.