A simple rule to describe interactions between visual categories

Marlene Poncet, Michele Fabre-Thorpe, Ramakrishna Chakravarthi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Humans can rapidly categorise visual objects when presented in isolation. However, in everyday life we encounter multiple objects at the same time. Far less is known about how simultaneously active object representations interact. We examined such interactions by asking participants to categorise a target object at the basic (Experiment 1) or the superordinate (Experiment 2) level while the representation of another object was still active. We found that the “prime” object strongly modulated the response to the target implying that the prime's category was rapidly and automatically accessed, influencing subsequent categorical processing. Using drift diffusion modelling, we show that a prime, whose category is different from that of the target, interferes with target processing primarily during the evidence accumulation stage. This suggests that the state of category‐processing neurons is altered by an active representation and this modifies the processing of other categories. Interestingly, the strength of interference increases with the similarity between the distractor and the target category. Considering these results and previous studies, we propose a general principle that category interactions are determined by the distance from a distractor's representation to the target's task‐relevant categorical boundary. We argue that this principle arises from the specific architectural organisation of categories in the brain.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4639-4666
Number of pages28
JournalEuropean Journal of Neuroscience
Issue number12
Early online date20 Jul 2020
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2020


  • Category interactions
  • Drift-diffusion model
  • Priming
  • Representation similarity
  • Visual categorisation


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