Assessing spontaneous categorical processing of visual shapes via frequency-tagging EEG

Apr 17, 2024

Fulltext pdf

Categorization is an essential cognitive and perceptual process, which happens spontaneously. However, earlier research often neglected the spontaneous nature of this process by mainly adopting explicit tasks in behavioral or neuroimaging paradigms. Here, we use frequency-tagging (FT) during electroencephalography (EEG) in 22 healthy human participants (both male and female) as a direct approach to pinpoint spontaneous visual categorical processing. Starting from schematic natural visual stimuli, we created morph sequences comprising 11 equal steps. Mirroring a behavioral categorical perception discrimination paradigm, we administered a FT-EEG oddball paradigm, assessing neural sensitivity for equally sized differences within and between stimulus categories. Likewise, mirroring a behavioral category classification paradigm, we administered a sweep FT-EEG oddball paradigm, sweeping from one end of the morph sequence to the other, thereby allowing us to objectively pinpoint the neural category boundary. We found that FT-EEG can implicitly measure categorical processing and discrimination. More specifically, we could derive an objective neural index of the required level to differentiate between the two categories, and this neural index showed the typical marker of categorical perception (i.e., stronger discrimination across as compared with within categories). The neural findings of the implicit paradigms were also validated using an explicit behavioral task. These results provide evidence that FT-EEG can be used as an objective tool to measure discrimination and categorization and that the human brain inherently and spontaneously (without any conscious or decisional processes) uses higher-level meaningful categorization information to interpret ambiguous (morph) shapes.