Neural dynamics of spreading attentional labels in mental contour tracing.
Abstract Behavioral and neural data suggest that visual attention spreads along contour segments to bind them into a unified object representation. Such attentional labeling segregates the target contour from distractors in a process known as mental contour tracing. A recurrent competitive map is developed to simulate the dynamics of mental contour tracing. In the model, local excitation opposes global inhibition and enables enhanced activity to propagate on the path offered by the contour. The extent of local excitatory interactions is modulated by the output of the multi-scale contour detection network, which constrains the speed of activity spreading in a scale-dependent manner. Furthermore, an L-junction detection network enables tracing to switch direction at the L-junctions, but not at the X- or T-junctions, thereby preventing spillover to a distractor contour. Computer simulations reveal that the model exhibits a monotonic increase in tracing time as a function of the distance to be traced. Also, the speed of tracing increases with decreasing proximity to the distractor contour and with the reduced curvature of the contours. The proposed model demonstrated how an elaborated version of the winner-takes-all network can implement a complex cognitive operation such as contour tracing.