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    Contextual-Dependent Attention Effect on Crowded Orientation Signals in Human Visual Cortex. Chen Nihong,Bao Pinglei,Tjan Bosco S The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience A target becomes hard to identify with nearby visual stimuli. This phenomenon, known as crowding, places a fundamental limit on conscious perception and object recognition. To understand the neural representation of crowded stimuli, we used fMRI and a forward encoding model to reconstruct the target-specific feature from multivoxel activation patterns evoked by orientation patches. Orientation-selective response profiles were constructed in V1-V4 for a target embedded in different contexts. Subjects of both sexes either directed their attention over all the orientation patches or selectively to the target. In the context with a weak crowding effect, attending to the target enhanced the orientation selectivity of the response profile; such effect increased along the visual pathway. In the context with a strong crowding effect, attending to the target enhanced the orientation selectivity of the response profile in the earlier visual area, but not in V4. The increase and decrease of orientation selectivity along the visual hierarchy demonstrate a contextual-dependent attention effect on crowded orientation signals: in the context with a weak crowding effect, selective attention gradually resolves the target from nearby distractors along the hierarchy; in the context with a strong crowding effect, while selective attention maintains the target feature in the earlier visual area, its effect decreases in the downstream area. Our findings reveal how the human visual system represents the target-specific feature at multiple stages under the limit of attention selection in a cluttered scene. Using fMRI and a forward encoding model, we reconstructed orientation-selective response profiles for a target embedded in crowded contexts. In the context with a weak crowding effect, attention gradually resolves the target from nearby distractors along the visual hierarchy. In the context with a strong crowding effect, while the feature of the target is preserved in the early visual cortex, it degrades in the later visual processing stage. The increase and decrease of orientation selectivity along the visual hierarchy reveal how the human visual system strikes to present the target-specific feature under the limit of attention selection in a cluttered scene. 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0805-18.2018