Apr 23, 2020

Searching through functional space reveals distributed visual, auditory, and semantic coding in the human brain

BioRxiv : the Preprint Server for Biology
S. KumarNicholas B Turk-Browne


The extent to which brain functions are localized or distributed is a foundational question in neuroscience. In the human brain, common fMRI methods such as cluster correction, atlas parcellation, and anatomical searchlight are biased by design toward finding localized representations. Here we introduce the functional searchlight approach as an alternative to anatomical searchlight analysis, the most commonly used exploratory multivariate fMRI technique. Functional searchlight removes any anatomical bias by grouping voxels based only on functional similarity and ignoring anatomical proximity. We report evidence that visual and auditory features from deep neural networks and semantic features from a natural language processing model are more widely distributed across the brain than previously acknowledged. This approach provides a new way to evaluate and constrain computational models with brain activity and pushes our understanding of human brain function further along the spectrum from strict modularity toward distributed representation.

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