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Neuroimage. 2005 Jul 15;26(4):1128-39. Epub 2005 Apr 20.

Familiarity enhances invariance of face representations in human ventral visual cortex: fMRI evidence.

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  • 1Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, 17 Queen Square, London WC1N 3AR, UK.


Face recognition across different viewing conditions is strongly improved by familiarity. In the present study, we tested the hypothesis that the neural basis of this effect is a less view-dependent representation of familiar faces in ventral visual cortex by assessing priming-related fMRI repetition effects. 15 healthy volunteers made male/female judgements on familiar (famous) and unfamiliar (novel) faces preceded by the same image, a different image of the same face, or another (unprimed) face. Reaction times revealed priming by same and different images independent of familiarity and more pronounced for same than different images. In the imaging data, a main effect of prime condition was found in bilateral fusiform and orbitofrontal regions. A right anterior fusiform region expressed stronger response decreases to repetition of familiar than unfamiliar faces. Bilateral mid-fusiform areas showed stronger response decreases to repetition of same than different images. A regions-of-interest analysis focussing specifically on face responsive regions suggested differences in the degree of image dependency across fusiform cortex. Collapsing across familiarity, there was greater image dependency of repetition effects in right than left anterior fusiform, replicating previous imaging findings obtained with common objects. For familiar faces alone, there was greater generalisation of repetition effects over different images in anterior than middle fusiform. This suggests a role of anterior fusiform cortex in coding image-independent representations of familiar faces.

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