Understanding the computational principles that underlie human vision is a key challenge for neuroscience and could help improve machine vision. Feedforward neural network models process their input through a deep cascade of computations. These models can recognize objects in images and explain aspects of human rapid recognition. However, the human brain contains recurrent connections within and between stages of the cascade, which are missing from the models that dominate both engineering and neuroscience. Here, we measure and model the dynamics of human brain activity during visual perception. We compare feedforward and recurrent neural network models and find that only recurrent models can account for the dynamic transformations of representations among multiple regions of visual cortex.Abstract
The human visual system is an intricate network of brain regions that enables us to recognize the world around us. Despite its abundant lateral and feedback connections, object processing is commonly viewed and studied as a feedforward process. Here, we measure and model the rapid representational dynamics across multiple stages of the human ventral stream using time-resolved brain imaging and deep learning. We observe substantial representational transformations during the first 300 ms of processing within and across ventral-stream regions. Categorical divisions emerge in sequence, cascading forward and in reverse across regions, and Granger causality analysis suggests bidirectional information flow between regions. Finally, recurrent deep neural network models clearly outperform parameter-matched feedforward models in terms of their ability to capture the multiregion cortical dynamics. Targeted virtual cooling experiments on the recurrent deep network models further substantiate the importance of their lateral and top-down connections. These results establish that recurrent models are required to understand information processing in the human ventral stream.