Top-Down engagement modulates the neural expressions of visual expertise

Assaf Harel, Sharon Gilaie-Dotan, Rafael Malach, Shlomo Bentin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

73 Scopus citations

Abstract

Perceptual expertise is traditionally associated with enhanced brain activity in response to objects of expertise in category-selective visual cortex, primarily face-selective regions. We reevaluated this view by investigating whether the brain activity associated with expertise in object recognition is limited to category-selective cortex and specifically whether the extent of expertise-related activity manifests automatically or whether it can be top-down modulated. We conducted 2 functional magnetic resonance imaging studies comparing changes in hemodynamic activity associated with car expertise in a conventional 1-back task (Experiment 1) and when the task relevance of cars was explicitly manipulated (Experiment 2). Whole-brain analysis unveiled extensive expertise-related activity throughout the visual cortex, starting as early as V1 and extending into nonvisual areas. However, when the cars were task irrelevant, the expertise-related activity drastically diminished, indeed, becoming similar to the activity elicited by cars in novices. We suggest that expertise entails voluntary top-down engagement of multiple neural networks in addition to stimulus-driven activation associated with perceptual mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2304-2318
Number of pages15
JournalCerebral Cortex
Volume20
Issue number10
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 2010
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
National Institute of Mental Health (R01 MH 64458 to S.B.); Israel Foundations Trustees Program for the Advancement of Research in the Social Sciences (Research Grant for Doctoral Students in the Social Sciences to A.H.).

Funding

National Institute of Mental Health (R01 MH 64458 to S.B.); Israel Foundations Trustees Program for the Advancement of Research in the Social Sciences (Research Grant for Doctoral Students in the Social Sciences to A.H.).

FundersFunder number
Israel Foundations Trustees Program
National Institute of Mental HealthR01MH064458

    Keywords

    • fMRI
    • object recognition
    • top-down effects
    • visual cortex
    • visual expertise

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