Functional dissociations within the ventral object processing pathway: cognitive modules or a hierarchical continuum?

  • Cowell R
  • Bussey T
  • Saksida L
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Abstract

We examined the organization and function of the ventral object processing pathway. The prevailing theoretical approach in this field holds that the ventral object processing stream has a modular organization, in which visual perception is carried out in posterior regions and visual memory is carried out, independently, in the anterior temporal lobe. In contrast, recent work has argued against this modular framework, favoring instead a continuous, hierarchical account of cognitive processing in these regions. We join the latter group and illustrate our view with simulations from a computational model that extends the perceptual-mnemonic feature-conjunction model of visual discrimination proposed by Bussey and Saksida [Bussey, T. J., & Saksida, L. M. The organization of visual object representations: A connectionist model of effects of lesions in perirhinal cortex. European Journal of Neuroscience, 15, 355-364, 2002]. We use the extended model to revisit early data from Iwai and Mishkin [Iwai, E., & Mishkin, M. Two visual foci in the temporal lobe of monkeys. In N. Yoshii & N. Buchwald (Eds.), Neurophysiological basis of learning and behavior (pp. 1-11). Japan: Osaka University Press, 1968]; this seminal study was interpreted as evidence for the modularity of visual perception and visual memory. The model accounts for a double dissociation in monkeys' visual discrimination performance following lesions to different regions of the ventral visual stream. This double dissociation is frequently cited as evidence for separate systems for perception and memory. However, the model provides a parsimonious, mechanistic, single-system account of the double dissociation data. We propose that the effects of lesions in ventral visual stream on visual discrimination are due to compromised representations within a hierarchical representational continuum rather than impairment in a specific type of learning, memory, or perception. We argue that consideration of the nature of stimulus representations and their processing in cortex is a more fruitful approach than attempting to map cognition onto functional modules.

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Authors

  • Rosemary a Cowell

  • Timothy J Bussey

  • Lisa M Saksida

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