Conflicting demands of abstract and specific visual object processing resolved by frontoparietal networks

Brenton W. McMenamin, Chad J. Marsolek, Brianna K. Morseth, MacKenzie K.F. Speer, Philip C. Burton, E. Darcy Burgund

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Object categorization and exemplar identification place conflicting demands on the visual system, yet humans easily perform these fundamentally contradictory tasks. Previous studies suggest the existence of dissociable visual processing subsystems to accomplish the two abilities—an abstract category (AC) subsystem that operates effectively in the left hemisphere and a specific exemplar (SE) subsystem that operates effectively in the right hemisphere. This multiple subsystems theory explains a range of visual abilities, but previous studies have not explored what mechanisms exist for coordinating the function of multiple subsystems and/or resolving the conflicts that would arise between them. We collected functional MRI data while participants performed two variants of a cue–probe working memory task that required AC or SE processing. During the maintenance phase of the task, the bilateral intraparietal sulcus (IPS) exhibited hemispheric asymmetries in functional connectivity consistent with exerting proactive control over the two visual subsystems: greater connectivity to the left hemisphere during the AC task, and greater connectivity to the right hemisphere during the SE task. Moreover, probe-evoked activation revealed activity in a broad frontoparietal network (containing IPS) associated with reactive control when the two visual subsystems were in conflict, and variations in this conflict signal across trials was related to the visual similarity of the cue–probe stimulus pairs. Although many studies have confirmed the existence of multiple visual processing subsystems, this study is the first to identify the mechanisms responsible for coordinating their operations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)502-515
Number of pages14
JournalCognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016, Psychonomic Society, Inc.


  • Functional connectivity
  • Hemispheric asymmetry
  • Intraparietal sulcus
  • Working memory


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