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Population Models, Not Analyses, of Human Neuroscience Measurements
Annual Review of Vision Science  (IF6.422),  Pub Date : 2021-09-15, DOI: 10.1146/annurev-vision-093019-111124
Justin L. Gardner, Elisha P. Merriam

Selectivity for many basic properties of visual stimuli, such as orientation, is thought to be organized at the scale of cortical columns, making it difficult or impossible to measure directly with noninvasive human neuroscience measurement. However, computational analyses of neuroimaging data have shown that selectivity for orientation can be recovered by considering the pattern of response across a region of cortex. This suggests that computational analyses can reveal representation encoded at a finer spatial scale than is implied by the spatial resolution limits of measurement techniques. This potentially opens up the possibility to study a much wider range of neural phenomena that are otherwise inaccessible through noninvasive measurement. However, as we review in this article, a large body of evidence suggests an alternative hypothesis to this superresolution account: that orientation information is available at the spatial scale of cortical maps and thus easily measurable at the spatial resolution of standard techniques. In fact, a population model shows that this orientation information need not even come from single-unit selectivity for orientation tuning, but instead can result from population selectivity for spatial frequency. Thus, a categorical error of interpretation can result whereby orientation selectivity can be confused with spatial frequency selectivity. This is similarly problematic for the interpretation of results from numerous studies of more complex representations and cognitive functions that have built upon the computational techniques used to reveal stimulus orientation. We suggest in this review that these interpretational ambiguities can be avoided by treating computational analyses as models of the neural processes that give rise to measurement. Building upon the modeling tradition in vision science using considerations of whether population models meet a set of core criteria is important for creating the foundation for a cumulative and replicable approach to making valid inferences from human neuroscience measurements.