Visual object recognition is performed effortlessly by humans notwithstanding the fact that it requires a series of complex computations, which are, as yet, not well understood. Here, we tested a novel account of the representations used for visual recognition and their neural correlates using fMRI. The rationale is based on previous research showing that a set of representations, termed “minimal recognizable configurations” (MIRCs), which are computationally derived and have unique psychophysical characteristics, serve as the building blocks of object recognition. We contrasted the BOLD responses elicited by MIRC images, derived from different categories (faces, objects, and places), sub-MIRCs, which are visually similar to MIRCs, but, instead, result in poor recognition and scrambled, unrecognizable images. Stimuli were presented in blocks, and participants indicated yes/no recognition for each image. We confirmed that MIRCs elicited higher recognition performance compared to sub-MIRCs for all three categories. Whereas fMRI activation in early visual cortex for both MIRCs and sub-MIRCs of each category did not differ from that elicited by scrambled images, high-level visual regions exhibited overall greater activation for MIRCs compared to sub-MIRCs or scrambled images. Moreover, MIRCs and sub-MIRCs from each category elicited enhanced activation in corresponding category-selective regions including fusiform face area and occipital face area (faces), lateral occipital cortex (objects), and parahippocampal place area and transverse occipital sulcus (places). These findings reveal the psychological and neural relevance of MIRCs and enable us to make progress in developing a more complete account of object recognition.

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