Real-world value often depends on subtle, continuously variable visual cues specific to particular object categories, like the tailoring of a suit, the condition of an automobile, or the construction of a house. Here, we used microelectrode recording in behaving monkeys to test two possible mechanisms for category-specific value-cue processing: (1) previous findings suggest that prefrontal cortex (PFC) identifies object categories, and based on category identity, PFC could use top-down attentional modulation to enhance visual processing of category-specific value cues, providing signals to PFC for calculating value, and (2) a faster mechanism would be first-pass visual processing of category-specific value cues, immediately providing the necessary visual information to PFC. This, however, would require learned mechanisms for processing the appropriate cues in a given object category. To test these hypotheses, we trained monkeys to discriminate value in four letter-like stimulus categories. Each category had a different, continuously variable shape cue that signified value (liquid reward amount) as well as other cues that were irrelevant. Monkeys chose between stimuli of different reward values. Consistent with the first-pass hypothesis, we found early signals for category-specific value cues in area TE (the final stage in monkey ventral visual pathway) beginning 81 ms after stimulus onset—essentially at the start of TE responses. Task-related activity emerged in lateral PFC approximately 40 ms later and consisted mainly of category-invariant value tuning. Our results show that, for familiar, behaviorally relevant object categories, high-level ventral pathway cortex can implement rapid, first-pass processing of category-specific value cues. Real-world value judgments often depend on subtle variations in object appearance. Sasikumar et al. show that neurons in high-level cortex can become sensitive to these variations following extensive training with specific object categories. This provides a fast mechanism for value judgments in familiar object categories.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)