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J Neurophysiol. 2011 Nov;106(5):2720-36. doi: 10.1152/jn.00672.2010. Epub 2011 Jul 6.

Face categorization in visual scenes may start in a higher order area of the right fusiform gyrus: evidence from dynamic visual stimulation in neuroimaging.

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Institute of Psychology, University of Louvain, Belgium.


How a visual stimulus is initially categorized as a face by the cortical face-processing network remains largely unclear. In this study we used functional MRI to study the dynamics of face detection in visual scenes by using a paradigm in which scenes containing faces or cars are revealed progressively as they emerge from visual noise. Participants were asked to respond as soon as they detected a face or car during the noise sequence. Among the face-sensitive regions identified based on a standard localizer, a high-level face-sensitive area, the right fusiform face area (FFA), showed the earliest difference between face and car activation. Critically, differential activation in FFA was observed before differential activation in the more posteriorly located occipital face area (OFA). A whole brain analysis confirmed these findings, with a face-sensitive cluster in the right fusiform gyrus being the only cluster showing face preference before successful behavioral detection. Overall, these findings indicate that following generic low-level visual analysis, a face stimulus presented in a gradually revealed visual scene is first detected in the right middle fusiform gyrus, only after which further processing spreads to a network of cortical and subcortical face-sensitive areas (including the posteriorly located OFA). These results provide further evidence for a nonhierarchical organization of the cortical face-processing network.

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