On the Necessity of Recurrent Processing during Object Recognition: It Depends on the Need for Scene Segmentation

Noor Seijdel, Jessica Loke, Ron van de Klundert, Matthew van der Meer, Eva Quispel, Simon van Gaal, Edward H.F. de Haan, H. Steven Scholte

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Although feedforward activity may suffice for recognizing objects in isolation, additional visual operations that aid object recognition might be needed for real-world scenes. One such additional operation is figure-ground segmentation, extracting the relevant features and locations of the target object while ignoring irrelevant features. In this study of 60 human participants (female and male), we show objects on backgrounds of increasing complexity to investigate whether recurrent computations are increasingly important for segmenting objects from more complex backgrounds. Three lines of evidence show that recurrent processing is critical for recognition of objects embedded in complex scenes. First, behavioral results indicated a greater reduction in performance after masking objects presented on more complex backgrounds, with the degree of impairment increasing with increasing background complexity. Second, electroencephalography (EEG) measurements showed clear differences in the evoked response potentials between conditions around time points beyond feedforward activity, and exploratory object decoding analyses based on the EEG signal indicated later decoding onsets for objects embedded in more complex backgrounds. Third, deep convolutional neural network performance confirmed this interpretation. Feedforward and less deep networks showed a higher degree of impairment in recognition for objects in complex backgrounds compared with recurrent and deeper networks. Together, these results support the notion that recurrent computations drive figure-ground segmentation of objects in complex scenes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6281-6289
Number of pages9
JournalThe Journal of Neuroscience
Issue number29
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jul 2021


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