Critical Oscillations Club

Superstitions perception and how this relates to understanding object representations in the visual stream.

Superstitious perceptions reveal properties of internal representations. Abstract Everyone has seen a human face in a cloud, a pebble, or blots on a wall. Evidence of superstitious perceptions has been documented since classical antiquity, but has received little scientific attention. In the study reported here, we used superstitious perceptions in a new principled method to reveal the properties of unobservable object representations in memory. We stimulated the visual system with unstructured white noise. Observers firmly believed that they perceived the letter S in Experiment 1 and a smile on a face in Experiment 2. Using reverse correlation and computational analyses, we rendered the memory representations underlying these superstitious perceptions. Measuring internal representations from behavioral and brain data. The study of internal knowledge representations is a cornerstone of the research agenda in the interdisciplinary study of cognition. An influential proposal assumes that the brain uses its internal knowledge of the external world to constrain, in a top-down manner, high-dimensional sensory data into a lower-dimensional representation that enables perceptual decisions and other higher-level cognitive functions [1-9]. This proposal relies on a precise formulation of the observer-specific internal knowledge (i.e., the internal representations, or models) that guides reduction of the high-dimensional retinal input onto a low-dimensional code. Here, we directly revealed the content of subjective internal representations by instructing five observers to detect a face in the presence of only white noise, to force a pure top-down, knowledge-based task. We used reverse correlation methods to visualize each observer's internal representation that supports detection of an illusory face. Using reverse correlation again, this time applied to observers' electroencephalogram activity, we established where and when in the brain specific internal knowledge conceptually interprets the input white noise as a face. We show that internal representations can be reconstructed experimentally from behavioral and brain data, and that their content drives neural activity first over frontal and then over occipitotemporal cortex.