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Assaf Harel, Sharon Gilaie-Dotan, Rafael Malach, Shlomo Bentin; Top-down engagement modulates the neural expressions of visual expertise. Journal of Vision 2010;10(7):945. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/10.7.945.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
Perceptual expertise is traditionally associated with enhanced brain activity in response to objects of expertise in category-selective visual cortex, primarily face-selective regions. We reassessed this view asking (1) What are the neural manifestations of visual expertise and are they confined to category-selective cortex and (2) Is expertise-related activity an automatic process or does it depend on the top-down engagement of the experts with their objects of expertise? We conducted two fMRI studies comparing neural manifestations of car expertise in absence of task constraints (Experiment 1) and when the task-relevance of cars was explicitly manipulated (Experiment 2). We unveiled extensive expertise-related activity throughout the visual cortex, starting as early as V1, which extended into non-visual areas. However, when cars were task-irrelevant, the expertise-related activity drastically diminished, indeed, becoming similar to the activity elicited by cars in novices. We suggest that expertise entails voluntary top-down engagement of multiple neural networks in addition to stimulus-driven activation associated with perceptual mechanisms.
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