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BrainSCUBA: Fine-Grained Natural Language Captions of Visual Cortex Selectivity

Andrew Luo · Maggie Henderson · Michael Tarr · Leila Wehbe

Halle B #50
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Tue 7 May 1:45 a.m. PDT — 3:45 a.m. PDT


Understanding the functional organization of higher visual cortex is a central focus in neuroscience. Past studies have primarily mapped the visual and semantic selectivity of neural populations using hand-selected stimuli, which may potentially bias results towards pre-existing hypotheses of visual cortex functionality. Moving beyond conventional approaches, we introduce a data-driven method that generates natural language descriptions for images predicted to maximally activate individual voxels of interest. Our method -- Semantic Captioning Using Brain Alignments ("BrainSCUBA") -- builds upon the rich embedding space learned by a contrastive vision-language model and utilizes a pre-trained large language model to generate interpretable captions. We validate our method through fine-grained voxel-level captioning across higher-order visual regions. We further perform text-conditioned image synthesis with the captions, and show that our images are semantically coherent and yield high predicted activations. Finally, to demonstrate how our method enables scientific discovery, we perform exploratory investigations on the distribution of "person" representations in the brain, and discover fine-grained semantic selectivity in body-selective areas. Unlike earlier studies that decode text, our method derives voxel-wise captions of semantic selectivity. Our results show that BrainSCUBA is a promising means for understanding functional preferences in the brain, and provides motivation for further hypothesis-driven investigation of visual cortex.

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