Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Little is known about the time scales in which sensitivity to novel category identity may become evident in visual and executive cortices in visual category learning (VCL) tasks and the nature of such changes in brain activation. We used fMRI to investigate the processing of category information and trial-by-trial feedback information. In each VCL task, stimuli differed in three feature dimensions. In each trial, either two same-category stimuli or two different-categories stimuli were presented. The participant had to learn which feature dimension was relevant for categorization based on the feedback that followed each categorization decision. We contrasted between same-category stimuli trials and different-category trials and between correct and incorrect categorization decision trials. In each trial, brain activation in the visual stimuli processing phase was modeled separately from activation during the later feedback processing phase. We found activation in the lateral occipital complex, indicating sensitivity to the category relation between stimuli, to be evident in VCL within only few learning trials. Specifically, greater lateral occipital complex activation was evident when same-category stimuli were presented than when different-category stimuli were presented. In the feedback processing phase, greater activation in both executive and visual cortices was evident primarily after “misdetections” of same-category stimuli. Implications regarding the contribution of different learning trials to VCL, and the respective role of key brain regions, at the onset of VCL, are discussed.