Parametric coding of the size and clutter of natural scenes in the human brain

Park*, S.J., Konkle*, T., & Oliva, A. (in revision). Cerebral Cortex


Estimating the size of a space and its degree of clutter are effortless and ubiquitous tasks of moving agents in a natural environment. Here, we examine how regions along the occipital-temporal lobe respond to pictures of indoor real-world scenes that parametrically vary in their physical size (the spatial extent of a space bounded by walls) and functional clutter (the organization and quantity of objects that fill up the space). Using a linear regression model on multivoxel pattern activity across regions of interest, we find evidence that both properties of size and clutter are represented in the patterns of parahippocampal cortex, while the retrosplenial cortex activity patterns are predominantly sensitive to the size of a space, rather than the degree of clutter. Parametric whole-brain analyses confirmed these results. Importantly, this size and clutter information was represented in a way that generalized across different semantic categories. These data provide support for a property-based representation of spaces, distributed across multiple scene-selective regions of the cerebral cortex.