Perceiving visually presented objects


Perceiving visually presented objects: recognition, awareness, and modularity Anne M Treisman* and Nancy G Kanwisherf

Object perception may involve seeing, recognition,

preparation of actions, and emotional responses-functions

that human brain imaging and neuropsychology suggest are

localized separately. Perhaps because of this specialization,

object perception is remarkably rapid and efficient.

Representations of componential structure and interpolation

from view-dependent images both play a part in object

recognition. Unattended objects may be implicitly registered,

but recent experiments suggest that attention is required to

bind features, to represent three-dimensional structure, and to

mediate awareness.

Addresses *Department of Psychology, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey 08544-1010, USA; e-mail: tDepartment of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, El O-243, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA; e-mail:

Current Opinion in Neurobiology 1998, 8:218-226

0 Current Biology Ltd ISSN 0959-4388


ERP event-related potential fMRl functional magnetic resonance imaging IT inferotemporal cortex

Introduction It is usually assumed that perception is mediated by specific patterns of neural activity that encode a selective

description of what is seen, distinguishing it from other

similar sights. When we perceive an object, we may form

multiple representations, each specialized for a different

purpose and therefore selecting different properties to

encode at different levels of detail. There is empirical

evidence supporting the existence of six different types

of object representation. First, representation as an ‘object

token’-a conscious viewpoint-dependent representation

of the object as currently seen. Second, as a ‘structural de-

scription’- a non-visually-conscious object-centered rep-

resentation from which the object’s appearance from other

angles and distances can be predicted. Third, as an

‘object type’-a recognition of the object’s identity (e.g. a

banana) or membership in one or more stored categories.

Fourth, a representation based on further knowledge

associated with the category (such as the fact that the

banana can be peeled and what it will taste like). Fifth, a

representation that includes a specification of its emotional

and motivational significance to the observer. Sixth, an

‘action-centered description’, specifying its “affordances”

[l], that is, the properties we need in order to program

appropriate motor responses to it, such as its location,

size and shape relative to our hands. These different

representations are probably formed in an interactive

fashion, with prior knowledge facilitating the extraction of

likely features and structure, and vice versa.

Evidence suggests that the first four types of encoding

depend primarily on the ventral (occipitotemporal) path-

way, the fifth on connections to the amygdala, and the

sixth on the dorsal (occipitoparietal) pathway; however,

object tokens have also been equated with action-centered

descriptions [PI. Dorsal representations appear to be

distinct from those that mediate conscious perception;

for example, grasping is unaffected by the Titchener

size illusion [3]. Emotional responses can also be evoked

without conscious recognition (e.g. see [4**]). Object

recognition models differ over whether the type or identity

of objects is accessed from the view-dependent token or

from a structural description; in some cases, it may also be

accessed directly from simpler features.

The goal of perception is to account for systematic

patterning of the retinal image, attributing features to their

real world sources in objects and in the current viewing

conditions. In order to achieve these representations,

multiple sources of information are used, such as color,

luminance, texture, relative size, dynamic cues from mo-

tion and transformations, and stereo depth; however, the

most important is typically shape. Many challenges arise in

solving the inverse problem of retrieving the likely source

of the retinal image: information about object boundaries

is often incomplete and noisy; and three-dimensional

objects are seen from multiple views, producing different

two-dimensional projections on the retina, and objects in

normal scenes are often partially occluded. The visual

system has developed many heuristics for solving these

problems. Continuity is assumed rather than random varia-

tion. Regularities in the image are attributed to regularities

in the real world rather than to accidental coincidences.

Different types of objects and different levels of specificity

require diverse discriminations, making it likely that

specialized modules have evolved, or developed through

learning, to cope with the particular demands of tasks

such as face recognition, reading, finding our way through

places, manipulating tools, and identifying animals, plants,

minerals and artifacts.

Research on object perception over the past year has made

progress on a number of issues. Here, we will discuss

recent advances in our understanding of the speed of

object recognition, object types and tokens, and attention

and awareness in object recognition. In addition, we will

Perceiving visually presented objects Treisman and Kanwisher 219

review evidence for cortical specializations for particular

components of visual recognition.

The speed of object recognition Evolutionary pressures have given high priority to speed

of visual recognition, and there is both psychological and

neuroscientific evidence that objects are discriminated

within one or two hundred milliseconds. Behavioral

studies have demonstrated that we can recognize up to

eight or more objects per second, provided they are

presented sequentially at fixation, making eye movements

unnecessary [S]. Although rate measurements cannot tell

us the absolute amount of time necessary for an individual

object to be recognized, physiological recordings reveal

the latency at which the two stimulus classes begin to

be distinguished. Thorpe et al. [6”] have demonstrated significant differences in event-related brain potential

(ERP) waveforms for viewing scenes containing animals

versus scenes not containing animals at 150 ms after stim-

ulus onset. Several other groups [7,8*,9-111 have found

face-specific ERPs and magnetoencephalography (MEG)

waveforms with latencies of 155-190 ms. DiGirolamo and

Kanwisher (G DiGirolamo, NG Kanwisher, abstract in

Psychonom Sot 1995, 305) found ERP differences for line drawings of familiar versus unfamiliar three-dimensional

objects at 170 ms (see also [S]).

Parallel results were found in the stimulus selectivity

of early responses of cells in inferotemporal (IT) cortex

in macaques, initiated at latencies of 80-looms. On

the basis that IT cells are selective for particular faces

even in the first 50ms of their response, Wallis and

Rolls [12] conclude that “visual recognition can occur

with largely feed-forward processing”. The duration of

responses by these face-selective cells was reduced from

250ms to 25 ms by a backward mask appearing 20ms

after the onset of the face, a stimulus onset asynchrony

at which human observers can still just recognize the

face. The data suggest that “a cortical area can perform

the computation necessary for the recognition of a visual

stimulus in ZO-30ms”. Thus, a consensus is developing

that the critical processes involved in object recognition

are remarkably fast, occurring within lOO-200ms of

stimulus presentation. However, it may take another

1OOms for subsequent processes to bring this information

into awareness.

Object tokens How then does the visual system solve the problems of

object perception with such impressive speed and accu-

racy? A first stage must be a preliminary segregation of the

sensory data that form separate candidate objects. Even

at this early level, familiarity can override bottom-up cues

such as common region and connectedness, supporting

an interactive cascade process in which “partial results of

the segmentation process are sent to higher level object

representations”, which, in turn, guide the segmentation

process [ 13.1.

Kahneman, Treisman, and Gibbs [14] have proposed

that conscious seeing is mediated by episodic ‘object

files’ within which the object tokens defined earlier

are constructed. Information about particular instances

currently being viewed is selected from the sensory

array, accumulates over time, and is ‘bound’ together in

structured relations. Evidence for this claim came partly

from the observation of ‘object-specific’ priming- that

is, priming that occurs only, or more strongly, when the

prime and probe are seen as a single object. This occurs

even when they appear in different locations, if the

object is seen in real or apparent motion between the

two. Object-specific priming occurs between pictures and

names when these are perceptually linked through the

frames in which they appear (RD Gordon, DE Irwin,

personal communication), suggesting that object files

accumulate information not only about sensory features

but also about more abstract identities. However, priming

between synonyms or semantic associates is not object

specific [15], that is, it occurs equally whether they

are presented in the same perceptual object or in

different objects. It appears that object files integrate

object representations with their names, but maintain

a distinct identity from other semantically associated

objects. Priming at this level would be between object

types rather than tokens. Irwin [ 161 has reviewed evidence on transsaccadic integration, suggesting that it is limited to

about four object files.

A similar distinction between tokens and types has

emerged from the study of repetition blindness, a failure

to see a second token of the same type, which was

attributed to refractoriness in attaching a new token to

a recently instantiated type [17]. Recent research has

further explored this idea. One role of object tokens is

to maintain spatiotemporal continuity of objects across

motion and change. Chun and Cavanagh [18”] confirmed

that repetition blindness is greater when repeated items

are seen to occur within the same apparent motion

sequence and hence are integrated as the same perceived

object. They suggest that perception is biased to minimize

the number of different tokens formed to account for the

sensory data. Objects that appear successively are linked

whenever the spatial and temporal separations make

this physically plausible. This generally gives veridical

perception because in the real world, objects seldom

appear from nowhere or suddenly vanish. Arnell and

Jolicoeur [ 191 have demonstrated repetition blindness for novel objects for which no pre-existing representations

existed. According to Kanwisher’s account [ 171, this implies that a single presentation is sufficient to establish

an object type to which new tokens will be matched.

The ‘attentional blink’ [ZO] describes a failure to de-

tect the second of two different targets when it is

presented soon after the first. Chun (21’1 sees both

repetition blindness and the attentional blink as failures

of tokenization, although for different reasons, because

220 Cognitive neuroscience

they can be dissociated experimentally. Attentional blinks

(reduced by target-distractor discriminability) reflect a

Di I,ollo, JT Enns, personal communication). The account proposed

is that awareness depends on a match between re-entrant

information and the current sensory input at early

visual levels. A mismatch erases the initial tentative

representation. “It is as though the visual system treats the

trailing configuration as a transformation or replacement

of the earlier one.” Conversely, repetition blindness for

locations (R Epstein, NG Kanwisher, abstract in Psychononz

Sot 1996, 593) may result when the representation of an

earlier-presented letter prevents the stable encoding of

a subsequently presented letter appearing at the same


Attention and awareness in object perception Attention seems, then, to be necessary for object tokens

to mediate awareness. However, there is evidence (see

[Z-l’]) that objects can be identified without attention

and awareness. If this is so, do the representations differ

from those formed with attention? Activation (shown

by brain-imaging) in specialized regions of cortex for

processing faces [26] and visual motion [27] is reduced

when subjects direct attention away from the faces or

moving objects (respectively), even when eye movements

are controlled to guarantee identical retinal stimulation

(see also [28]), consistent with the effects of attention

on single units in macaque visual cortex. Unattended

objects are seldom reportable. However, priming studies

suggest that their shapes can be implicitly registered

[?.9,30**], although there are clear limits to the number of

unattended objects that will prime [31]. Representations

formed without attention may differ from those that

receive attention: they appear to be viewpoint-dependent

[32’], two-dimensional, with no interpretation of occlusion

or amodal completion [30”]. On the other hand, in

clinical neglect, the ‘invisible’ representations formed in

a patient’s neglected field include illusory contours and

filled-in surfaces [33-l, suggesting that neglect arises at

stages of processing beyond those that are suppressed in

normal selective attention. With more extreme inattention,

little explicit information is available beyond simple

features such as location, color, size, and gross numerosity;

even these simple features may not be available, produc-

ing ‘inattentional blindness’ [34’]. Again, however, some

implicit information is registered: unseen words may prime

word fragment completion, and there is clear selectivity

for emotionally important objects such as the person’s own

name and happy (but not sad) faces.

Binding of features to objects is often inaccurate unless

attention is focused on the relevant locations [35].

Although the parietal lobes are usually thought to be

associated with the processing of space and of action, they

may also be intimately involved, through spatial attention,

in binding and individuating object tokens in displays

with more than one object present, and therefore in

allowing conscious access to normal scenes [36]. Bilateral

damage to the parietal lobes results in Balint’s syndrome,

with its accompanying simultanagnosia (i.e. an inability

to see more than one object at a time) and dramatic

failures in binding features correctly. Binding is also

disrupted by transcranial magnetic stimulation of the

parietal lobes [37]. Extinction following unilateral parietal

lesions may result from a similar attentional problem

[2’,38]; there is often evidence of implicit knowledge

of extinguished items, perhaps through direct access

from features to types. Individuating objects in ‘crowded’

displays is more difficult in the lower than upper visual

field [39**], consistent with the greater parietal projection

from the lower visual field.

Other studies have investigated what is perceived with

attention distributed globally rather than specifically

excluding the critical object. Global attention allows

amodal completion for homogeneous displays [40]. Studies

of visual search suggest that displays are automatically

parsed into preattentive object files, acting as holders

for collections of attributes but not for their structural

relations (with the exception of the part-whole relation;

[41*]). Wolfe [42] has collected surprising evidence that

previously attended object tokens revert to a similar

unstructured state once attention is withdrawn, concluding

that “Vision exists in the present tense. It remembers

nothing”. Experiments on change detection in natural

scenes show that focused, rather than global, attention

is necessary for the identification of even quite dramatic

changes between saccades ([43]; RD Gordon, DE Irwin,

personal communication) or between alternating versions

of a scene with one object changed, added, or deleted

[44,45”,46]. Thus, attention seems critical at least for the

explicit voluntary storage and retrieval of objects.

Perceiving visually presented objects Treisman and Kanwisher 221

Striking dissociations between conscious access and im-

plicit measures of object processing are found in patients

with localized brain injuries. These dissociations suggest

multiple systems, each forming representations of objects

for specific purposes, only some of them conscious. For

example, damage to the fusiform gyrus results in loss

of conscious face recognition, or prosopagnosia, whereas

emotional assessment depends on the amygdala, and

may be selectively impaired in Capgras syndrome, where

patients show normal face recognition but no emotional

skin conductance responses [47]. Conversely, functional

magnetic resonance imaging (fR/IRI) activation of the

amygdala for emotionally expressive faces compared to

neutral ones occurs even when the emotional expres-

sions are masked and unseen [12]. Separate pathways

may be responsible for conscious perception of objects

and for the object representations chat control actions,

including the metric information necessary for grasping

and manipulating [3]. For example, patient D.F. has severe

agnosia as a result of damage in ventral visual areas,

but can still manipulate objects appropriately, presumably

through an intact dorsal route. Survival of action-related

object coding has also been shown by a hemianopic

patient in his blind field [48]. Another patient, with

damage in the ventral route, shows a striking dissociation

in expressing his perceptual knowledge, interpreting a

picture of a clarinet verbally as “Perhaps a pencil” while at

the same time his fingers clearly mimic playing a clarinet

(D Margolin et al., abstract in J Clin Exp Neuropsychol 1985, 6). Recent findings with patient D.F. suggest,

however, that shape processing in the dorsal route may be

restricted to measures of orientation, size and motion [49].

Positron emission tomography (PET) studies have also

failed to find the sharp dissociation between areas involved

in grasping and in perceptual matching that would be

predicted [SO] for a complete segregation of perceptual and

action-based processes.

Object types Formal theories of object perception have dealt primarily

with object recognition-that is, the identification of

object types, rather than the formation of object tokens.

‘l’hey fall into two classes: those that base recognition

on a structural description specifying parts and their re-

lationships (e.g. see [Sl]), and those that use more holistic

viewpoint-dependent representations [SZ-551. Structural

descriptions specify the relations between volumetric parts

or ‘gcons’ (e.g. ‘above’. ‘smaller than’, or ‘perpendicular

to’), which, in turn, are defined by features signaling

their cross section, axis shape, rough aspect ratio and

whether they arc truncated. View-dependent models

differ in how they solve the recognition problem for

novel views, whether by interpolation between stored

views [56], by ‘blurred’ template-matching [55,57], by

linear combination:; of stored views [58], or by mental

rotation 1.591.

The debate between those supporting the ‘structural

descriptions’ model versus those supporting the view-

dependent models continued over the past year; recent

evidence suggests that both accounts play a role and

clarifies the conditions in which each may be used. View-

based representations predict the observed specificity

of learning, with gradients of generalization around the

particular views experienced [60’], even when the objects

were novel and clearly composed of geons. Learned views

were shown also to influence the appearance of an object

in motion, determining whether or not it was seen as

rigid [61*]. Apparent motion between rotated views of

novel objects demonstrated the psychological reality of

an induced interpolation process [62”]: both intermediate

views and views just beyond the second view were

primed, but not views that preceded the first. Priming was

abolished when the interval between the two views was

too long to induce apparent motion.

Outside the laboratory, we normally experience dynami-

cally changing views of objects, through either our own

motion or the motion of the object. This could be

an important perceptual learning mechanism in object

recognition. Physiological evidence consistent with the

view-based account comes from single-unit recordings

in IT of macaque monkeys [63], showing neurons that

respond selectively to different views of novel objects,

firing most to one view, with a gradually decreasing

response as the object rotates away from the preferred

view. The results closely parallel the generalization

gradients shown in human priming experiments. Only

a few cells were found to respond selectively to one

object regardless of the view from which it was seen.

The existence of IT columns systematically coding similar

object components [64] may contribute to perceived

invariance across different views and locations of the same


The geon-based account has also received considerable

empirical support (reviewed in [51]). Its proponents have

shown that simple filters cannot account for the types

of errors that humans make [65]. In recent applied

research on distinguishing military vehicles in infra-red

photos [66], a geon-based conditional tree predicted

perceptual confusions much better than a deformable

template account (671, although the latter did better

with faces. Identification can be dissociated from the

conscious perception of orientation: two studies have

reported that three patients with right or bilateral parietal

lesions correctly identified objects or letters without being

able to name or copy their orientations [39**,68].

Studies comparing priming and recognition also sug-

gest that both structural descriptions and more specific

viewpoint-dependent representations are retained in vi-

sual memory. Whereas implicit priming suggests invari-

ance across changes in location, color, orientation and size,

222 Cognitive neuroscience

explicit tests of recognition show much more specificity

[69,70]. Srinivas [71] confirmed that for attended objects,

priming was invariant with left-right orientation, although

it was reduced by changes in size if the task made size

relevant. Short-term matching of temporally contiguous

stimuli suggested equivalence across views and seems,

like priming, to tap an invariant representation [72].

Similarly, repetition blindness for pictures across very short

lags shows complete invariance to size, orientation, and

viewpoint [73].

The general conclusion is emerging that both mechanisms

are used at different stages of processing, and/or on

different classes of objects [74]. A recent model of object

perception [75*] combines an initial view-dependent

representation of geons followed by a ‘dynamic binding’

process that creates a structural description of their

relations while retaining their independence as separable

parts. Distinctive features or parts contribute when they

are present, ruling out a pure template-matching mech-

anism [76]. Structural descriptions based on geons may

be good for accessing basic level categories for the many

objects that are naturally decomposable into distinct parts,

but cannot succeed for discriminations within classes of

objects that share parts and differ only in metric properties.

Faces are a clear case where more holistic template models

can capture subtle differences between instances, all of

which share the same basic geon structure. The task

may also play a part in determining the kind of analysis

that is carried out; in speeded naming, subtle differences

within categories are irrelevant, whereas in same-different

matching tasks, metric comparison processes may be

invoked. Finally, there may also be a shift with experience.

Experts with extensive encounters with different instances

may base their recognition on matching to multiple stored

views, giving the impression of invariant representation.

Gauthier and Tarr [77] gave subjects prolonged training

in recognizing novel objects with shared parts (‘greebles’)

varying along a few specified dimensions, and found

that with experience, they became sensitive to configural

qualities as well as to specific features.

Striking examples of perceptual plasticity in form per-

ception have recently been reported. Implicit traces

can mediate priming for novel nonsense shapes across

several weeks delay after a single presentation [29,30”].

Analogously, rapid learning has been demonstrated in

single-unit recordings in monkeys [78**]: when exposed

to binarized faces, face-sensitive cells gave little response,

but after the animal was given a few seconds of viewing

gray-scale versions of the same faces, the cells responded

equally to the binarized images. A similar result has been

shown in humans using fMR1 [79]. Logothetis and Pauls

[SO] found IT cells that, with experience, became selective

for novel objects that previously did not excite them;

these cells also showed some viewpoint dependency.

Other examples of very rapid perceptual learning have

been reported [81,82], and a reverse hierarchical system,

to account for perceptual learning effects, has been

proposed [81].

Cortical specializations for visual recognition Evidence from neuropsychology, cognitive psychology,

and brain imaging suggests that the remarkable speed

and accuracy of visual recognition are achieved through

the operation of a set of special-purpose mechanisms

instantiated in at least partially segregated brain regions.

The shape of an object is usually the most important

cue to its identity. Humphrey et al. [83] have reported

that although patient D.E could discriminate the ap-

parent three-dimensional structure of shapes defined by

shading gradients, she was unable to discriminate similar

shapes in which the edges were depicted as luminance

discontinuities or lines, suggesting that extracting shape

from shading is a distinct process from extracting shape

from edges. Humphrey et al. [84] used fMR1 on nor-

mal subjects to show that shape-from-shading processes

produce activation in primary visual cortex. Evidence

from a variety of sources indicates that a large region of

lateral occipital cortex just anterior to retinotopic cortex

(but posterior to the visual motion area MT) responds

more strongly to stimuli depicting shapes than to stimuli

with similar low-level features that do not depict shapes

[B&86]. Common areas within this lateral occipital region

are activated by structure from motion, structure from

texture, and luminance silhouettes (K Grill-Spector it

al., Sot Neurosci Abstr 1997, 23:868.12). Whereas simple forms defined by differences in luminance, color, or

direction of motion largely activate regions in retinotopic

cortex, stereoscopic and illusory-contour displays primarily

activate the lateral occipital region (J Mendola et al., Sor Neurosci Abstr 1997, 23550.11). Thus, although some of the necessary computations take place in retinotopic cortex,

lateral occipital cortex may contain regions specialized

for some aspect of visual shape analysis. However, three

important questions remain to be answered. First, what

specific aspect of shape analysis is computed in this region

(e.g. edge extraction or figure-ground segmentation or

implied depth)? Second, would the areas activated by

different shape cues in different studies overlap exactly

if run on an individual subject, or would different but

adjacent regions within lateral occipital cortex be activated

by different shape cues? Third, might the activations,

in part, reflect attentional artifacts, as all of the stimuli

depicting shapes are likely to be more attention-capturing

than the control stimuli depicting random texture fields?

Shape analysis can be carried out on virtually any visually

presented object. Other processing mechanisms appear

to be recruited by exemplars of just one stimulus class.

Evidence has been presented for special-purpose cortical

machinery for the recognition of words, tools, biological

motion [87,88], and other object categories. In the past

year, the already strong evidence for the case of face

perception [89] has received further support. First, a recent

Perceiving visually presented objects Treisman and Kanwisher 223

study of patient C.K. [90”] presents perhaps the most

compelling evidence that face and object recognition are

separated at a relatively early stage. C.K.‘s general visual

abilities are drastically disrupted, and he has great diffi-

culty recognizing objects and words, yet he is absolutely

normal at face recognition. Second, intracranial recordings

from epileptic patients have demonstrated single cells

in the human hippocampus, amygdala, and entorhinal

cortex that respond selectively to faces, particular facial

expressions, or gender [91], or to familiar versus unfamiliar

faces [91,92]. Third, human brain imaging studies have

shown that regions within the fusiform gyrus are not only

responsive to faces [93-951, but also respond in a highly

specific fashion to faces compared to a wide range of other

kinds of objects [96’,97].

The accumulating evidence for cortical specialization

for specific components of visual recognition raises a

number of important questions. Does this fine-grained

specialization of function arise from experience-dependent

self-organizing properties of cortex [98], or are cortical

specializations innately specified? For the case of faces,

this question is hard to answer because both experiential

and evolutionary arguments are plausible. However,

evidence for cortical specializations for visually presented

words (T Polk et (I/., Sot Newosci Abstr 1996, 22:291.2) and letters (M Farah et al., Sot Neurosci Abstr 1996, 22:291.1) suggests that experience may be sufficient, at least in some

cases. Further evidence for experience-induced cortical

specialization comes from Logothetis and Pauls [80], who

found that after training monkeys with a specific class of

stimuli, small regions in anterior IT (AIT) contained cells

selectively responsive to these stimuli.

What are the implications of cortical specialization for

theories of visual recognition? Does the selectivity of

certain cortical areas for the recognition of different

stimulus classes imply that qualitatively distinct processing

mechanisms are involved in each? Connectionist re-

searchers have noted the computational efficiency gained

by the decomposition of a complex function into natural

parts [99]. Cortical specializations for components of visual

recognition are plausible candidates for such task decom-

position. On the other hand, a shallower account might

argue that cells selective for particular specialized features

happen to land together in a cortical surface organized

by feature columns [lOO]. Support for this interpretation

comes from a recent report that localized regions in human

extrastriate cortex are selectively responsive to apparently

arbitrary categories, such as chairs and houses (A Ishai

et a/., abstract in Neuroimage 1997, 5.4:S149). It remains for future research to determine whether the functional

organization of visual recognition is better characterized

as ‘shallow specialization’ or a deeper form of modularity

in which a small number of functionally specific regions

each carries out a qualitatively distinct computation in the

service of an evolutionarily or experientially fundamental

visual process.

Conclusions Behavioral and physiological work has provided a rich

characterization of the multiple representations that are

extracted in the first quarter of a second of viewing

a complex visual stimulus. Both structural descriptions

and viewpoint-dependent representations sufficient for

discriminating between objects are extracted within about

200ms. The phenomena of repetition blindness, at-

tentional blink, attentional masking, and inattentional

blindness reveal some of the heuristics by which the

visual system decides which of these representations to

incorporate into the developing stable representation of

visual experience. Functional imaging and patient studies

complement this picture by revealing some of the funda-

mental components of the machinery of visual recognition.

Persuasive evidence exists for a special-purpose ‘module’

mediating face perception, and ongoing research suggests

the existence of several other dissociable components of

object perception.

Acknowledgements this rcvicw supported by National Science Foundation

grant #SBR-9511633 to AM ‘licisman, and a Human Frontiers Grant and National Institute of hfentnl Health grant 56037 to NG Kanwisher.

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