Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Growing evidence suggests that the functional specialization of the two cortical visual pathways may not be as distinct as originally proposed. Here, we explore possible contributions of the dorsal “where/how” visual stream to shape perception and, conversely, contributions of the ventral “what” visual stream to location perception in human adults. Participants performed a shape detection task and a location detection task while undergoing fMRI. For shape detection, comparable BOLD activation in the ventral and dorsal visual streams was observed, and the magnitude of this activation was correlated with behavioral performance. For location detection, cortical activation was significantly stronger in the dorsal than ventral visual pathway and did not correlate with the behavioral outcome. This asymmetry in cortical profile across tasks is particularly noteworthy given that the visual input was identical and that the tasks were matched for difficulty in performance. We confirmed the asymmetry in a subsequent psychophysical experiment in which participants detected changes in either object location or shape, while ignoring the other, task-irrelevant dimension. Detection of a location change was slowed by an irrelevant shape change matched for difficulty, but the reverse did not hold. We conclude that both ventral and dorsal visual streams contribute to shape perception, but that location processing appears to be essentially a function of the dorsal visual pathway.