Humans are rapid in categorizing natural scenes. Electrophysiological recordings reveal that scenes containing animals can be categorized within 150 msec, which has been interpreted to indicate that feedforward flow of information from V1 to higher visual areas is sufficient for visual categorization. However, recent studies suggest that recurrent interactions between higher and lower levels in the visual hierarchy may also be involved in categorization. To clarify the role of recurrent processing in scene categorization, we recorded EEG and manipulated recurrent processing with object substitution masking while the participants performed a go/no-go animal/nonanimal categorization task. The quality of visual awareness was measured with a perceptual awareness scale after each trial. Masking reduced the clarity of perceptual awareness, slowed down categorization speed for scenes that were not clearly perceived, and reduced the electrophysiological difference elicited by animal and nonanimal scenes after 150 msec. The results imply that recurrent processes enhance the resolution of conscious representations and thus support categorization of stimuli that are difficult to categorize on the basis of the coarse feedforward representations alone.

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