Information processing in the sensory periphery is shaped by natural stimulus statistics. In the periphery, a transmission bottleneck constrains performance; thus efficient coding implies that natural signal components with a predictably wider range should be compressed. In a different regime - when sampling limitations constrain performance - efficient coding implies that more resources should be allocated to informative features that are more variable. We propose that this regime is relevant for sensory cortex when it extracts complex features from limited numbers of sensory samples. To test this prediction, we use central visual processing as a model: we show that visual sensitivity for local multi-point spatial correlations, described by dozens of independently-measured parameters, can be quantitatively predicted from the structure of natural images. This suggests that efficient coding applies centrally, where it extends to higher-order sensory features and operates in a regime in which sensitivity increases with feature variability.
Human subjects: The human subjects research (visual psychophysics) was approved by the Institutional Review Board of the Weill Cornell Medical College, and was in accord with the World Medical Association Declaration of Helsinki. Informed consent was obtained from each subject prior to the experimental sessions, and consent to publish was obtained from Mary Conte (MC), the one subject who is potentially identifiable by the initials since she is also an author.
- Timothy Behrens, Oxford University, United Kingdom
© 2014, Hermundstad et al.
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Using the visual system as a model, we recently showed that the efficient coding principle accounted for the allocation of computational resources in central sensory processing: when sampling an image is the main limitation, resources are devoted to compute the statistical features that are the most variable, and therefore the most informative (eLife 2014;3:e03722. DOI: 10.7554/eLife.03722 Hermundstad et al., 2014). Building on these results, we use single-unit recordings in the macaque monkey to determine where these computations—sensitivity to specific multipoint correlations—occur. We find that these computations take place in visual area V2, primarily in its supragranular layers. The demonstration that V2 neurons are sensitive to the multipoint correlations that are informative about natural images provides a common computational underpinning for diverse but well-recognized aspects of neural processing in V2, including its sensitivity to corners, junctions, illusory contours, figure/ground, and ‘naturalness.’
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