Brain Dissection: fMRI-trained Networks Reveal Spatial Selectivity in the Processing of Natural Images

Gabriel Sarch · Michael Tarr · Katerina Fragkiadaki · Leila Wehbe

Great Hall & Hall B1+B2 (level 1) #418
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Thu 14 Dec 8:45 a.m. PST — 10:45 a.m. PST


The alignment between deep neural network (DNN) features and cortical responses currently provides the most accurate quantitative explanation for higher visual areas. At the same time, these model features have been critiqued as uninterpretable explanations, trading one black box (the human brain) for another (a neural network). In this paper, we train networks to directly predict, from scratch, brain responses to images from a large-scale dataset of natural scenes (Allen et. al., 2021). We then use "network dissection" (Bau et. al., 2017), an explainable AI technique used for enhancing neural network interpretability by identifying and localizing the most significant features in images for individual units of a trained network, and which has been used to study category selectivity in the human brain (Khosla & Wehbe, 2022). We adapt this approach to create a hypothesis-neutral model that is then used to explore the tuning properties of specific visual regions beyond category selectivity, which we call "brain dissection". We use brain dissection to examine a range of ecologically important, intermediate properties, including depth, surface normals, curvature, and object relations across sub-regions of the parietal, lateral, and ventral visual streams, and scene-selective regions. Our findings reveal distinct preferences in brain regions for interpreting visual scenes, with ventro-lateral areas favoring closer and curvier features, medial and parietal areas opting for more varied and flatter 3D elements, and the parietal region uniquely preferring spatial relations. Scene-selective regions exhibit varied preferences, as the retrosplenial complex prefers distant and outdoor features, while the occipital and parahippocampal place areas favor proximity, verticality, and in the case of the OPA, indoor elements. Such findings show the potential of using explainable AI to uncover spatial feature selectivity across the visual cortex, contributing to a deeper, more fine-grained understanding of the functional characteristics of human visual cortex when viewing natural scenes.

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