December 2017, Vol. 29, No. 12, Pages 1995-2010
Asymmetric Compression of Representational Space for Object Animacy Categorization under Degraded Viewing Conditions
Animacy is a robust organizing principle among object category representations in the human brain. Using multivariate pattern analysis methods, it has been shown that distance to the decision boundary of a classifier trained to discriminate neural activation patterns for animate and inanimate objects correlates with observer RTs for the same animacy categorization task [Ritchie, J. B., Tovar, D. A., & Carlson, T. A. Emerging object representations in the visual system predict reaction times for categorization. PLoS Computational Biology, 11, e1004316, 2015; Carlson, T. A., Ritchie, J. B., Kriegeskorte, N., Durvasula, S., & Ma, J. Reaction time for object categorization is predicted by representational distance. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 26, 132–142, 2014]. Using MEG decoding, we tested if the same relationship holds when a stimulus manipulation (degradation) increases task difficulty, which we predicted would systematically decrease the distance of activation patterns from the decision boundary and increase RTs. In addition, we tested whether distance to the classifier boundary correlates with drift rates in the linear ballistic accumulator [Brown, S. D., & Heathcote, A. The simplest complete model of choice response time: Linear ballistic accumulation. Cognitive Psychology, 57, 153–178, 2008]. We found that distance to the classifier boundary correlated with RT, accuracy, and drift rates in an animacy categorization task. Split by animacy, the correlations between brain and behavior were sustained longer over the time course for animate than for inanimate stimuli. Interestingly, when examining the distance to the classifier boundary during the peak correlation between brain and behavior, we found that only degraded versions of animate, but not inanimate, objects had systematically shifted toward the classifier decision boundary as predicted. Our results support an asymmetry in the representation of animate and inanimate object categories in the human brain.