Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Faces and bodies are processed by distinct category-selective brain areas. Neuroimaging studies have so far presented isolated faces and headless bodies, and therefore little is known on whether and where faces and headless bodies are grouped together to one object, as they appear in the real world. The current study examined whether a face presented above a body are represented as two separate images or as an integrated face–body representation in face and body-selective brain areas by employing a fMRI competition paradigm. This paradigm has been shown to reveal higher fMRI response to sequential than simultaneous presentation of multiple stimuli (i.e., the competition effect), indicating competitive interactions among simultaneously presented multiple stimuli. We therefore hypothesized that if a face above a body is integrated to an image of a person whereas a body above a face is represented as two separate objects, the competition effect will be larger for the latter than the former. Consistent with our hypothesis, our findings reveal a competition effect when a body is presented above a face, but not when a face is presented above a body, suggesting that a body above a face is represented as two separate objects whereas a face above a body is represented as an integrated image of a person. Interestingly, this integration of a face and a body to an image of a person was found in the fusiform, but not the lateral-occipital face and body areas. We conclude that faces and bodies are processed separately at early stages and are integrated to a unified image of a person at mid-level stages of object processing.