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Brain. 2002 May;125(Pt 5):1125-36.

Dynamics of visual feature analysis and object-level processing in face versus letter-string perception.

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Brain Research Unit, Low Temperature Laboratory, Helsinki University of Technology, Finland.


Neurones in the human inferior occipitotemporal cortex respond to specific categories of images, such as numbers, letters and faces, within 150-200 ms. Here we identify the locus in time when stimulus-specific analysis emerges by comparing the dynamics of face and letter-string perception in the same 10 individuals. An ideal paradigm was provided by our previous study on letter-strings, in which noise-masking of stimuli revealed putative visual feature processing at 100 ms around the occipital midline followed by letter-string-specific activation at 150 ms in the left inferior occipitotemporal cortex. In the present study, noise-masking of cartoon-like faces revealed that the response at 100 ms increased linearly with the visual complexity of the images, a result that was similar for faces and letter-strings. By 150 ms, faces and letter-strings had entered their own stimulus-specific processing routes in the inferior occipitotemporal cortex, with identical timing and large spatial overlap. However, letter-string analysis lateralized to the left hemisphere, whereas face processing occurred more bilaterally or with right-hemisphere preponderance. The inferior occipitotemporal activations at approximately 150 ms, which take place after the visual feature analysis at approximately 100 ms, are likely to represent a general object-level analysis stage that acts as a rapid gateway to higher cognitive processing.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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