Functional magnetic resonance imaging adaptation reveals a noncategorical representation of hue in early visual cortex

Andrew S. Persichetti, Sharon L. Thompson-Schill, Omar H. Butt, David H. Brainard, Geoffrey K. Aguirre

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Color names divide the fine-grained gamut of color percepts into discrete categories. A categorical transition must occur somewhere between the initial encoding of the continuous spectrum of light by the cones and the verbal report of the name of a color stimulus. Here, we used a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) adaptation experiment to examine the representation of hue in the early visual cortex. Our stimuli varied in hue between blue and green. We found in the early visual areas (V1, V2/3, and hV4) a smoothly increasing recovery from adaptation with increasing hue distance between adjacent stimuli during both passive viewing (Experiment 1) and active categorization (Experiment 2). We examined the form of the adaptation effect and found no evidence that a categorical representation mediates the release from adaptation for stimuli that cross the blue-green color boundary. Examination of the direct effect of stimulus hue on the fMRI response did, however, reveal an enhanced response to stimuli near the blue-green category border. This was largest in hV4 and when subjects were engaged in active categorization of the stimulus hue. In contrast with a recent report from another laboratory (Bird, Berens, Horner, & Franklin, 2014), we found no evidence for a categorical representation of color in the middle frontal gyrus. A post hoc whole-brain analysis, however, revealed several regions in the frontal cortex with a categorical effect in the adaptation response. Overall, our results support the idea that the representation of color in the early visual cortex is primarily fine grained and does not reflect color categories.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Vision
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2015


  • Categorization
  • Color
  • Functional magnetic resonance imaging


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