Orientation decoding in human visual cortex: New insights from an unbiased perspective

Thomas A. Carlson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)
22 Downloads (Pure)


The development of multivariate pattern analysis or brain "decoding" methods has substantially altered the field of fMRI research. Although these methods are highly sensitive to whether or not decodable information exists, the information they discover and make use of for decoding is often concealed within complex patterns of activation. This opacity of interpretation is embodied in influential studies showing that the orientation of visual gratings can be decoded from brain activity in human visual cortex with fMRI. Although these studies provided a compelling demonstration of the power of these methods, their findings were somewhat mysterious as the scanning resolution was insufficient to resolve orientation columns, i.e., orientation information should not have been accessible. Two theories have been put forth to account for this result, the hyperacuity account and the biasedmapaccount, both of which assume that small biases in fMRI voxels are the source of decodable information. In the present study, we use Hubel and Wiesel's (1972) classic ice-cube model of visual cortex to show that the orientation of gratings can be decoded from an unbiased representation. In our analysis, we identify patterns of activity elicited by the edges of the stimulus as the source of the decodable information. Furthermore, these activation patterns masquerade as a radial bias, a key element of the biased map account. This classic model thus sheds new light on the mystery behind orientation decoding by unveiling a new source of decodable information.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8373-8383
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number24
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2014. Originally published as Journal of neuroscience, vol. 34, no. 24, pp. 8373-8383, http:/doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0548-14.2014. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • fMRI decoding
  • Hyperacuity
  • Multivariate pattern analysis
  • Orientation columns
  • Visual cortex


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