Delorme, A., Rousselet, G.A. , Macé, M.J.-M. and Fabre-Thorpe, M. (2004) Interaction of top-down and bottom up processing in the fast visual analysis of natural scenes. Cognitive Brain Research, 19(2), pp. 103-113.
The influence of task requirements on the fast visual processing of natural scenes was studied in 14 human subjects performing in alternation an “animal” categorization task and a single-photograph recognition task. Target photographs were randomly mixed with non-target images and flashed for only 20 ms. Subjects had to respond to targets within 1 s. Processing time for image-recognition was 30-40 ms shorter than for the categorization task, both for the fastest behavioral responses and for the latency at which event related potentials evoked by target and non-target stimuli started to diverge. The faster processing in image-recognition is shown to be due to the use of low-level cues, but source analysis produced evidence that, regardless of the task, the dipoles accounting for the differential activity had the same localization and orientation in the occipito-temporal cortex. We suggest that both tasks involve the same visual pathway and the same decisional brain area but because of the total predictability of the target in the image recognition task, the first wave of bottom-up feed-forward information is speeded up by top-down influences that might originate in the prefrontal cortex and preset lower levels of the visual pathway to the known target features.