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It is a principal open question whether noninvasive imaging methods in humans can decode information encoded at a spatial scale as fine as the basic functional unit of cortex: cortical columns. We addressed this question in five magnetoencephalography (MEG) experiments by investigating the encoding of a columnar-level encoded visual feature: contrast edge orientation. We found that MEG signals contained orientation-specific information as early as ~50ms after stimulus onset even when controlling for confounds, such as overrepresentation of particular orientations, stimulus edge interactions, and global form-related signals. Theoretical modeling confirmed the plausibility of this empirical result. An essential consequence of our results is that information encoded in the human brain at the level of cortical columns should in general be accessible by multivariate analysis of electrophysiological signals.

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