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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

October 2009, Vol. 21, No. 10, Pages 2027-2045
(doi: 10.1162/jocn.2009.21115)
© 2009 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Functional Specialization and Convergence in the Occipito-temporal Cortex Supporting Haptic and Visual Identification of Human Faces and Body Parts: An fMRI Study
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Humans can recognize common objects by touch extremely well whenever vision is unavailable. Despite its importance to a thorough understanding of human object recognition, the neuroscientific study of this topic has been relatively neglected. To date, the few published studies have addressed the haptic recognition of nonbiological objects. We now focus on haptic recognition of the human body, a particularly salient object category for touch. Neuroimaging studies demonstrate that regions of the occipito-temporal cortex are specialized for visual perception of faces (fusiform face area, FFA) and other body parts (extrastriate body area, EBA). Are the same category-sensitive regions activated when these components of the body are recognized haptically? Here, we use fMRI to compare brain organization for haptic and visual recognition of human body parts. Sixteen subjects identified exemplars of faces, hands, feet, and nonbiological control objects using vision and haptics separately. We identified two discrete regions within the fusiform gyrus (FFA and the haptic face region) that were each sensitive to both haptically and visually presented faces; however, these two regions differed significantly in their response patterns. Similarly, two regions within the lateral occipito-temporal area (EBA and the haptic body region) were each sensitive to body parts in both modalities, although the response patterns differed. Thus, although the fusiform gyrus and the lateral occipito-temporal cortex appear to exhibit modality-independent, category-sensitive activity, our results also indicate a degree of functional specialization related to sensory modality within these structures.