Edge-Related Activity Is Not Necessary to Explain Orientation Decoding in Human Visual Cortex

Susan Wardle, J. Brendan Ritchie, Kiley Seymour, Thomas A. Carlson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Multivariate pattern analysis is a powerful technique; however, a significant theoretical limitation in neuroscience is the ambiguity in interpreting the source of decodable information used by classifiers. This is exemplified by the continued controversy over the source of orientation decoding from fMRI responses in human V1. Recently Carlson (2014) identified a potential source of decodable information by modeling voxel responses based on the Hubel and Wiesel (1972) ice-cube model of visual cortex. The model revealed that activity associated with the edges of gratings covaries with orientation and could potentially be used to discriminate orientation. Here we empirically evaluate whether "edge-related activity" underlies orientation decoding from patterns of BOLD response in human V1. First, we systematically mapped classifier performance as a function of stimulus location using population receptive field modeling to isolate each voxel's overlap with a large annular grating stimulus. Orientation was decodable across the stimulus; however, peak decoding performance occurred for voxels with receptive fields closer to the fovea and overlapping with the inner edge. Critically, we did not observe the expected second peak in decoding performance at the outer stimulus edge as predicted by the edge account. Second, we evaluated whether voxels that contribute most to classifier performance have receptive fields that cluster in cortical regions corresponding to the retinotopic location of the stimulus edge. Instead, we find the distribution of highly weighted voxels to be approximately random, with a modest bias toward more foveal voxels. Our results demonstrate that edge-related activity is likely not necessary for orientation decoding.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1187-1196
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2017


  • fMRI decoding
  • hyperacuity
  • multivariate pattern analysis
  • orientation columns
  • population receptive field mapping
  • visual cortex


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