Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
October 2018, Vol. 30, No. 10, Pages 1499-1516
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The Fusiform and Occipital Face Areas Can Process a Nonface Category Equivalently to Faces
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The fusiform and occipital face areas (FFA and OFA) are functionally defined brain regions in human ventral occipitotemporal cortex associated with face perception. There is an ongoing debate, however, whether these regions are face-specific or whether they also facilitate the perception of nonface object categories. Here, we present evidence that, under certain conditions, bilateral FFA and OFA respond to a nonface category equivalently to faces. In two fMRI sessions, participants performed same–different judgments on two object categories (faces and chairs). In one session, participants differentiated between distinct exemplars of each category, and in the other session, participants differentiated between exemplars that differed only in the shape or spatial configuration of their features (featural/configural differences). During the latter session, the within-category similarity was comparable for both object categories. When differentiating between distinct exemplars of each category, bilateral FFA and OFA responded more strongly to faces than to chairs. In contrast, during featural/configural difference judgments, bilateral FFA and OFA responded equivalently to both object categories. Importantly, during featural/configural difference judgments, the magnitude of activity within FFA and OFA evoked by the chair task predicted the participants' behavioral performance. In contrast, when participants differentiated between distinct chair exemplars, activity within these face regions did not predict the behavioral performance of the chair task. We conclude that, when the within-category similarity of a face and a nonface category is comparable and when the same cognitive strategies used to process a face are applied to a nonface category, the FFA and OFA respond equivalently to that nonface category and faces.