A review of functional imaging studies on category specificity

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A review of 20 functional imaging studies that compared visual processing of natural objects and artifacts in normal subjects is presented. The studies included fulfilled three criteria: (i) they used pictures as stimuli, (ii) they were based on direct contrasts between categories, and (iii) they reported findings in Talairach space. Not a single area is consistently activated for a given category across all studies. In contrast, 11 out of 29 regions are reported activated by both artifacts and natural objects. It is argued that the inconsistency is unlikely to reflect differences between studies in task requirements alone. Rather, the most likely causes of the inconsistency are: (i) adoption of liberal statistical thresholds that may yield false-positive activations, (ii) limited sensitivity due to few observations, and (iii) failure to match categories on confounding variables such as familiarity and visual complexity. Of the most consistent activations found, none appear to be selective for natural objects or artifacts. The findings reviewed are compatible with theories of category specificity that assume a widely distributed conceptual system not organized by category.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)296-314
Publication statusPublished - 2007
Externally publishedYes



  • Brain
  • Brain Mapping
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Recognition (Psychology)
  • Sensitivity and Specificity

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