The activities of neurons in primary visual cortex have been shown to be significantly influenced by stimuli outside their classical receptive fields. We propose that these contextual influences serve pre-attentive visual segmentation by causing relatively higher neural responses to important or conspicuous image locations, making them more salient for perceptual pop-out. These locations include boundaries between regions, smooth contours, and pop-out targets against backgrounds. The mark of these locations is the breakdown of spatial homogeneity in the input, for instance, at the border between two texture regions of equal mean luminance. This breakdown causes changes in contextual influences, often resulting in higher responses at the border than at surrounding locations. This proposal is implemented in a biologically based model of V1 in which contextual influences are mediated by intra-cortical horizontal connections. The behavior of the model is demonstrated using examples of texture segmentation, figure-ground segregation, target-distractor asymmetry, and contour enhancement, and is compared with psychophysical and physiological data. The model predicts (1) how neural responses should be tuned to the orientation of nearby texture borders, (2) a set of qualitative constraints on the structure of the intracortical connections, and (3) stimulus dependent biases in estimating the locations of the region borders by pre-attentive vision.
Published in Spatial Vision , Volumn 13, Number 1. page 25-50, 2000