August 2009
Volume 9, Issue 8
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   August 2009
Flexible neural tuning for face parts and wholes in the fusiform face area
Author Affiliations
  • Alison Harris
    University of Pennsylvania
  • Geoffrey Aguirre
    University of Pennsylvania
Journal of Vision August 2009, Vol.9, 552. doi:10.1167/9.8.552
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      Alison Harris, Geoffrey Aguirre; Flexible neural tuning for face parts and wholes in the fusiform face area. Journal of Vision 2009;9(8):552. doi: 10.1167/9.8.552.

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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Visual perception is qualitatively modified by experience, changing from part-based to holistic with familiarity or expertise. Yet the neural correlates of such effects in higher-level visual areas remain relatively unexplored. Here we examined the neural basis of flexible changes in neural tuning to parts and wholes using a manipulation of perceptual similarity, which has previously been shown to affect visual processing. Unfamiliar faces were arranged along arbitrarily-defined eye and mouth dimensions either equidistantly (“Diamond” stimulus space) or asymmetrically (“Kite” space) to differentially engage holistic or part-based processing, respectively. Although subjects were never informed of the stimulus space arrangements, they nonetheless showed a significantly smaller face inversion effect for the Kite space, suggesting that this stimulus set is processed in a more part-based manner. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of the Diamond versus Kite stimulus space during an unrelated target detection task revealed a corresponding switch from holistic to part-based tuning in face-selective right fusiform gyrus (the Fusiform Face Area, or “FFA”). In contrast, the left FFA consistently showed part-based tuning for both Diamond and Kite spaces. Thus, the flexible tuning of the right FFA for wholes and parts cannot be explained as a general response property of ventral visual areas, but likely reflects this region's special importance for holistic processing of faces. These data indicate that, at least in some high-level visual areas, recruitment of holistic or part-based representations can be modulated by perceptual similarity. Together with previous data on familiarity (Harris & Aguirre, 2008), these results underscore the flexibility of neural tuning within higher visual areas, suggesting that factors such as familiarity and perceptual similarity may interact for increased efficiency of sensory coding.

Harris, A. Aguirre, G. (2009). Flexible neural tuning for face parts and wholes in the fusiform face area [Abstract]. Journal of Vision, 9(8):552, 552a,, doi:10.1167/9.8.552. [CrossRef]

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