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J Neurophysiol. 1998 Mar;79(3):1574-8.

Covert visual attention modulates face-specific activity in the human fusiform gyrus: fMRI study.

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Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles, California 90095, USA.


Several lines of evidence demonstrate that faces undergo specialized processing within the primate visual system. It has been claimed that dedicated modules for such biologically significant stimuli operate in a mandatory fashion whenever their triggering input is presented. However, the possible role of covert attention to the activating stimulus has never been examined for such cases. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to test whether face-specific activity in the human fusiform face area (FFA) is modulated by covert attention. The FFA was first identified individually in each subject as the ventral occipitotemporal region that responded more strongly to visually presented faces than to other visual objects under passive central viewing. This then served as the region of interest within which attentional modulation was tested independently, using active tasks and a very different stimulus set. Subjects viewed brief displays each comprising two peripheral faces and two peripheral houses (all presented simultaneously). They performed a matching task on either the two faces or the two houses, while maintaining central fixation to equate retinal stimulation across tasks. Signal intensity was reliably stronger during face-matching than house matching in both right- and left-hemisphere predefined FFAs. These results show that face-specific fusiform activity is reduced when stimuli appear outside (vs. inside) the focus of attention. Despite the modular nature of the FFA (i.e., its functional specificity and anatomic localization), face processing in this region nonetheless depends on voluntary attention.

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