The functional organization and development of the human visual scene processing system Restricted; Files Only

Kamps, Frederik (Fall 2019)

Permanent URL:


Recognizing the local visual environment (or “scene”) and navigating through it is essential for survival. Perhaps not surprisingly then, human cortex contains a set of cortical regions dedicated to visual scene processing, including the occipital place area (OPA), parahippocampal place area (PPA), and retrosplenial complex (RSC). However, beyond establishing the general involvement of these regions in scene processing (i.e., responding more to images of scenes than to images of everyday objects and faces in neuroimaging studies), two fundamental questions remain unanswered: What is the precise function of each region in adult human visual scene processing? And how does that function get wired up in development? Here I present converging neural, causal, and developmental evidence for two hypotheses. First, I test the hypothesis that scene processing depends on dissociable systems for navigating and categorizing scenes (Papers 1-2). Consistent with this hypothesis, I found that the adult OPA responds more strongly than PPA and RSC to first-person perspective motion information (i.e., videos mimicking visual experience of actually walking through a scene), suggesting that OPA is involved in what I call “visually-guided navigation”, while PPA and RSC support other aspects of scene recognition and navigation. Further, I found that adults with Williams syndrome (a developmental disorder involving cortical thinning in and around OPA) are impaired on a visually-guided navigation task, but not a scene categorization task (e.g., recognizing a kitchen versus a living room), providing causal evidence for dissociable visually-guided navigation and scene categorization systems. Second, I test the further hypothesis that the visually-guided navigation and scene categorization systems develop independently, with visually-guided navigation maturing later than scene categorization (Papers 2-3). Consistent with this hypothesis, I indeed found that visually-guided navigation ability emerges more slowly than scene categorization ability across childhood. Moreover, I found that first-person perspective motion processing in OPA is still developing across this same age range, further revealing that the visually-guided navigation system undergoes protracted development. Taken together, these findings indicate that human visual scene processing is supported by at least two dissociable systems: an earlier-developing scene categorization system in PPA, and a later-developing visually-guided navigation system in OPA.

Table of Contents

General Introduction                                                                                                          1

Paper 1: The occipital place area represents first-person perspective motion information through scenes

Title                                                                                                                           31

Abstract                                                                                                                     32

Introduction                                                                                                               33

Methods                                                                                                                    34

Results                                                                                                                       41

Discussion                                                                                                                 47

Paper 2: Dissociable systems for recognizing places and navigating through them: causal and developmental evidence

Title                                                                                                                           52

Abstract                                                                                                                     53

Introduction                                                                                                               54

Methods                                                                                                                    57

Results                                                                                                                        61

Discussion                                                                                                                 77

Paper 3: Neural evidence for the protracted development of human visually-guided navigation

Title                                                                                                                           83

Abstract                                                                                                                     84

Introduction                                                                                                               85

Methods                                                                                                                    88

Results                                                                                                                       94

Discussion                                                                                                                 103

General Discussion                                                                                      108

References                                                                                                                 113

About this Dissertation

Rights statement
  • Permission granted by the author to include this thesis or dissertation in this repository. All rights reserved by the author. Please contact the author for information regarding the reproduction and use of this thesis or dissertation.
Subfield / Discipline
  • English
Research Field
Committee Chair / Thesis Advisor
Committee Members
Last modified Preview image embargoed

Primary PDF

Supplemental Files