Intracellular recordings were made from neurons in the cat visual cortex (area 17) to compare the orientation and direction selectivities of the output of a cell with those of the input the cell receives. The input to a cell was estimated from the PSPs (postsynaptic potentials) evoked by visual stimulation, and the output estimated from the number of spikes generated during the same responses. For the whole sample, selectivity of the output of cells was significantly higher than selectivity of their input. Upon PSP to spike transformation, the selectivity index was, on average, doubled. However, the degree of the selectivity improvement in individual cells was very different, varying from cases in which highly selective output was created from a poorly selective input and thus selectivity was greatly improved, to little or no improvement in other neurons. The improvement of selectivity was not correlated with resting membrane potential, threshold for action potential generation, background discharge rate or amplitude of optimal PSP response. Further, no systematic difference was found between simple and complex cells in the input–output relations, indicating that the ‘tip of the iceberg’ effect on shaping the response selectivity was cell specific, but not cell type specific. This supports the notion that multiple mechanisms are responsible for generation of the response selectivity, and that the contribution of any particular mechanism may vary from one cell to the other. The heterogeneity of the input–output relations in visual cortical cells could indicate different functions of cells in the cortical network; some cells are creating selectivity de novo, the function of other neurons probably being repetition and amplification of the selected signal and arrangement of the output of a whole column.