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Yetta Kwailing Wong, Isabel Gauthier; Neural correlates of music reading expertise. Journal of Vision 2008;8(6):87. https://doi.org/10.1167/8.6.87.
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Studies of the functional specialization of the visual ventral pathway have heavily focused on face-selective (e.g. Allison et al., 1994; Kanwisher et al., 1997) and letter-selective areas (e.g. Cohen et al., 2000; James & Gauthier, 2006). However, focusing on just two areas makes it difficult to distinguish between competing theories of the functional organization of higher visual cortex. This fMRI experiment expands the focus of expertise studies by investigating neural specialization for the perception of musical notation. In a block-design fMRI experiment, observers with considerable expertise reading music and complete novices performed one-back matching judgments on musical notes, Roman letters and mathematical symbols. Whole-brain analyses revealed a widespread neural network selectively engaged in the expert perception of musical notation, including bilateral early visual areas (V1/V2), bilateral inferior temporal areas, parietal areas, primary and associative auditory areas, parts of superior temporal sulcus and frontal areas including supplementary motor cortex. The activation in most of these areas was also correlated with the perceptual threshold for matching note sequences, an index of visual expertise in this domain. In contrast, face- and letter-selective regions did not show expert responses to musical notations. These results suggest that a distinct but equally widespread network of cortical areas is engaged by expert perception of musical notation, compared to other types of expertise. This is consistent with the process-map account, which assumes that there are not “expertise areas” in the brain: Any part of the visual system, for instance, can be recruited by expertise depending on the specific constraints of the task and properties of the stimuli. Learning about qualitatively different domains of expertise can facilitate the development of a general theory of how experience shapes cortical selectivity.
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