An exploration of visuomotor and perceptual mechanisms in humans and rats
Neuropsychological, neurophysiological and psychophysical evidence support the notion of two separate and largely independent cortical visual systems: a dorsal system mediating visually guided action and a ventral system mediating object perception and recognition (Goodale & Milner, 1992). This thesis is divided into three parts that explore questions related to the two-visual-systems model, two in humans and one in rats. The first part explores whether dorsal representations are based on the veridical properties of the stimuli or whether they include information produced by filling-in mechanisms of cortical visual areas. All human experiments were carried out with the ELITE and SMART motion tracking systems. Kinematic analysis showed that grasping Kanizsa illusory squares and partly-occluded objects was as accurate as grasping luminance-defined targets and it is concluded that information about interpolated regions is available to the dorsal system for the calibration of the movement parameters. A Vernier acuity task confirmed that the perceptual localization of Kanizsa and luminance-defined contours is not equally accurate in the ventral visual system. The second part explores the effect of target dimensionality on grasping, focusing on the possibility that actions aimed at targets that contain two-dimensional information could be modulated by ventral visual mechanisms. The Diagonal Illusion (DI) was chosen to investigate this possibility because it is entirely the product of three- dimensional objects. The DI exerted an effect on both perception and action, although the latter was smaller, suggesting that the effects of illusions on action previously reported are not attributable to the presence of 2D information and, by implication, that 2D information in the target array does not elicit modulation by the ventral visual system. These conclusions were confirmed by a study that found similar kinematic profiles from grasps aimed at 3D, 2D and 2D-enhanced targets. Control studies ruled out potential confounding effects resulting from curvatures of the stimuli that could have acted as obstacles and from differences in haptic feedback. It is concluded that object-directed action is mediated by dorsal visual mechanisms, irrespective of target dimensionality. The third part seeks to find evidence of ventral visual processing in rats by measuring the perception of visual illusions and object recognition in this species. The aim is to establish whether rats could provide a suitable model to further investigate the dorsal and ventral visual systems. An automated apparatus with a touch-screen and computer generated stimuli was developed to train the animals. The results from the illusion studies are not conclusive as only one out of three groups of rats was able to solve a discrimination with Kanizsa illusory figures. The preliminary results from the object recognition studies are however clearer. Rats were able to use aspect ratio to solve a discrimination with stimuli that varied in size and location suggesting that size- and location-independent object recognition occurs in this species. Probe trials confirmed these results. It is concluded that rats may have visual processes comparable to those occurring in the ventral visual system of humans and primates.