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PLoS One. 2009 Dec 22;4(12):e8405. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0008405.

Beyond shape: how you learn about objects affects how they are represented in visual cortex.

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Department of Psychology, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shatin, Hong Kong.



Experience can alter how objects are represented in the visual cortex. But experience can take different forms. It is unknown whether the kind of visual experience systematically alters the nature of visual cortical object representations.


We take advantage of different training regimens found to produce qualitatively different types of perceptual expertise behaviorally in order to contrast the neural changes that follow different kinds of visual experience with the same objects. Two groups of participants went through training regimens that required either subordinate-level individuation or basic-level categorization of a set of novel, artificial objects, called "Ziggerins". fMRI activity of a region in the right fusiform gyrus increased after individuation training and was correlated with the magnitude of configural processing of the Ziggerins observed behaviorally. In contrast, categorization training caused distributed changes, with increased activity in the medial portion of the ventral occipito-temporal cortex relative to more lateral areas.


Our results demonstrate that the kind of experience with a category of objects can systematically influence how those objects are represented in visual cortex. The demands of prior learning experience therefore appear to be one factor determining the organization of activity patterns in visual cortex.

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