Selim Onat

My main occupation is Neuroscience.

In the past, I have been interested on how the visual system processes natural scenes. To this end, I have recorded naturalistic movies using micro-cameras carried by cats while they were actively exploring a natural environment. I used these movies to train neuronal networks in an unsupervised manner and compared learnt features to the known properties of neurons in visual cortex. I also used these videos as stimuli during physiological recordings to gain insights on the principles of natural signal processing in the visual cortex.

Recently, I started working on how humans make generalizations based on what they have previously learnt. To this end, I am using a variety of methodologies including fMRI (1), autonomous (2), as well as eye-movement recordings (3). This research emanates from the well-established field of "stimulus generalization" following mainly the "lineage" of Hovland, Hull and Roger Shepard (4), and including the more recent computational work of Josua Tenenbaum (5). Furthermore, it integrates work on anxiety disorders, as it is believed that these mechanisms are impaired in people suffering from anxiety problems.

Categorical Representation of Visual Stimuli in the Primate Prefrontal Cortex

Freedman et al. generated pictures of complex objects using parametric combinations of 6 base images. These base images represented different kinds of felines or dogs, therefore their combinations gave rise to images that were graded in their category membership (e.g. whereas some combinations were clearly dog- or feline-like, others pictures were somewhere in between) while guaranteeing diversity within each category. These images were shown in a delayed-match-to-category task to monkeys. Solving this task requires a level of abstraction from the sheer appearances of the stimuli. Even at category boundaries where the discrimination is most difficult, the performance was high. They recorded activity of single neurons from prefrontal cortex, more precisely from the ventral part of the principal sulcus. Their results show evidence for neurons that are able to distinguish between these two, supposedly learnt categories. That is the responses are 1/ not gradual as the stimuli  and 2/ characterized by a sharp step-like function at the category boundary. The data is clear, the interpretation is inline with the data. I find it unfortunately that pictures which are at the category boundary were not presented. And the study would gain if the similarity measure was in the perceptual space rather than in the stimulus domain. The 6 base images could in principle be tested on humans using perceptual mapping techniques.