From perception to conception: how meaningful objects are processed over time.


To recognize visual objects, our sensory perceptions are transformed through dynamic neural interactions into meaningful representations of the world but exactly how visual inputs invoke object meaning remains unclear. To address this issue, we apply a regression approach to magnetoencephalography data, modeling perceptual and conceptual variables. Key conceptual measures were derived from semantic feature-based models claiming shared features (e.g., has eyes) provide broad category information, while distinctive features (e.g., has a hump) are additionally required for more specific object identification. Our results show initial perceptual effects in visual cortex that are rapidly followed by semantic feature effects throughout ventral temporal cortex within the first 120 ms. Moreover, these early semantic effects reflect shared semantic feature information supporting coarse category-type distinctions. Post-200 ms, we observed the effects along the extent of ventral temporal cortex for both shared and distinctive features, which together allow for conceptual differentiation and object identification. By relating spatiotemporal neural activity to statistical feature-based measures of semantic knowledge, we demonstrate that qualitatively different kinds of perceptual and semantic information are extracted from visual objects over time, with rapid activation of shared object features followed by concomitant activation of distinctive features that together enable meaningful visual object recognition.