Dynamic Domain Specificity In Human Ventral Temporal Cortex

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An enduring neuroscientific debate concerns the extent to which neural representation is restricted to neural populations specialized for particular domains of perceptual input, or distributed outside of highly selective populations as well. A critical level for this debate is the neural representation of the identity of individual images, such as individual-level face or written word recognition. Here, intracranial recordings throughout ventral temporal cortex across 17 human subjects were used to assess the spatiotemporal dynamics of individual word and face processing within and outside regions strongly selective for these categories of visual information. Individual faces and words were first discriminable primarily only in strongly selective areas, beginning at about 150 milliseconds after word or face onset, and then discriminable both within and outside strongly selective areas approximately 170 milliseconds later. Regions of ventral temporal cortex that were and were not strongly selective both contributed non-redundant information to the discrimination of individual images. These results can reconcile previous results endorsing disparate poles of the domain specificity debate by highlighting the temporally segregated contributions of different functionally defined cortical areas to individual level representations. This work supports a dynamic model of neural representation characterized by successive domain-specific and distributed processing stages.

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