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The visual system uses parallel pathways to process information. However, an ongoing debate centers on the extent to which the pathways from the retina, via the Lateral Geniculate nucleus to the visual cortex, process distinct aspects of the visual scene and, if they do, can stimuli in the laboratory be used to selectively drive them. These questions are important for a number of reasons, including that some pathologies are thought to be associated with impaired functioning of one of these pathways and certain cognitive functions have been preferentially linked to specific pathways. Here we examine the two main pathways that have been the focus of this debate: the magnocellular and parvocellular pathways. Specifically, we review the results of electrophysiological and lesion studies that have investigated their properties and conclude that while there is substantial overlap in the type of information that they process, it is possible to identify aspects of visual information that are predominantly processed by either the magnocellular or parvocellular pathway. We then discuss the types of visual stimuli that can be used to preferentially drive these pathways.
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