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

71 Scopus citations


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
Issue number10
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.).


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


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