EEG signatures of contextual influences on visual search with real scenes


The use of scene context is a powerful way by which biological organisms guide and facilitate visual search. Although many studies have shown enhancements of target-related electroencephalographic activity (EEG) with synthetic cues, there have been fewer studies demonstrating such enhancements during search with scene context and objects in real world scenes. Here, observers covertly searched for a target in images of real scenes while we used EEG to measure the steady state visual evoked response to objects flickering at different frequencies. The target appeared in its typical contextual location or out of context while we controlled for low-level properties of the image including target saliency against the background and retinal eccentricity. A pattern classifier using EEG activity at the relevant modulated frequencies showed target detection accuracy increased when the target was in a contextually appropriate location. A control condition for which observers searched the same images for a different target orthogonal to the contextual manipulation, resulted in no effects of scene context on classifier performance, confirming that image properties cannot explain the contextual modulations of neural activity. Pattern classifier decisions for individual images were also related to the aggregated observer behavioral decisions for individual images. Together, these findings demonstrate target-related neural responses are modulated by scene context during visual search with real world scenes and can be related to behavioral search decisions.

ICB Affiliated Authors

Meghdadi, A.H., Giesbrecht, B. & Eckstein, M.P.
Peer-Reviewed Article
Experimental Brain Research