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Neuroimage. 2019 Aug 15;197:565-574. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2019.05.010. Epub 2019 May 8.

Representational similarity precedes category selectivity in the developing ventral visual pathway.

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Department of Psychology and Program in Neuroscience, Amherst College, USA. Electronic address:
Department of Psychology, Emory University, USA.
School of Psychology, Bangor University, UK.
Faculty of Rehabilitation Sciences, TU Dortmund University, Germany.
Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA.
Department of Life Science Engineering, Institute of Medical Physics and Radiation Protection, USA.
Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, Department of Radiology, Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital, USA; Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA.
Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA.
McGovern Institute for Brain Research, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA.


Many studies have investigated the development of face-, scene-, and body-selective regions in the ventral visual pathway. This work has primarily focused on comparing the size and univariate selectivity of these neural regions in children versus adults. In contrast, very few studies have investigated the developmental trajectory of more distributed activation patterns within and across neural regions. Here, we scanned both children (ages 5-7) and adults to test the hypothesis that distributed representational patterns arise before category selectivity (for faces, bodies, or scenes) in the ventral pathway. Consistent with this hypothesis, we found mature representational patterns in several ventral pathway regions (e.g., FFA, PPA, etc.), even in children who showed no hint of univariate selectivity. These results suggest that representational patterns emerge first in each region, perhaps forming a scaffold upon which univariate category selectivity can subsequently develop. More generally, our findings demonstrate an important dissociation between category selectivity and distributed response patterns, and raise questions about the relative roles of each in development and adult cognition.

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