Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Some of the brain areas in the ventral temporal lobe, such as the fusiform face area (FFA), are critical for face perception in humans, but what determines this specialization is a matter of debate. The face specificity hypothesis claims that faces are processed in a domain-specific way. Alternatively, the expertise hypothesis states that the FFA is specialized in processing objects of expertise. To disentangle these views, some previous experiments used an artificial class of novel objects called Greebles. These experiments combined a learning and fMRI paradigm. Given the high impact of the results in the literature, we replicated and further investigated this paradigm. In our experiment, eight participants were trained for ten 1-hr sessions at identifying Greebles. We scanned participants before and after training and examined responses in FFA and lateral occipital complex. Most importantly and in contrast to previous reports, we found a neural inversion effect for Greebles before training. This result suggests that people process the “novel” Greebles as faces, even before training. This prediction was confirmed in a postexperimental debriefing. In addition, we did not find an increase of the inversion effect for Greebles in the FFA after training. This indicates that the activity in the FFA for Greebles does not depend on the degree of expertise acquired with the objects but on the interpretation of the stimuli as face-related.