Abstract

Recognizing objects in the environment and understanding our surroundings often depends on context: the presence of other objects and knowledge about their relations with each other. Such contextual information activates a set of medial lobe brain regions, the parahippocampal cortex and the retrosplenial complex. Both regions are more activated by single objects with a unique contextual association than by objects not associated with any specific context. Similarly they are more activated by spatially coherent arrangements of objects when those are consistent with their known spatial relations. The current study tested how context in multiple-object displays is represented in these regions in the absence of relevant spatial information. Using an fMRI slow-event-related design, we show that the precuneus (a subpart of the retrosplenial complex) is more activated by simultaneously presented contextually related objects than by unrelated objects. This suggests that the representation of context in this region is cumulative, representing integrated information across objects in the display. We discuss these findings in relation to processing of visual information and relate them to previous findings of contextual effects in perception.

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