Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
It is well known that previous perceptual experiences alter subsequent perception, but the details of the neural underpinnings of this general phenomenon are still sketchy. Here, we ask whether previous experiences with an item (such as seeing a person's face) leads to the alteration of the neural correlates related to processing of the item as such, or whether it creates additional associative connections between such substrates and those activated during prior experience. To address this question, we used magnetoencephalography (MEG) to identify neural changes accompanying subjects' viewing of unfamiliar versus famous faces and hearing the names of unfamiliar versus famous names. We were interested in the nature of the involvement of auditory brain regions in the viewing of faces, and in the involvement of visual regions in the hearing of names. Evoked responses from MEG recordings for the names and faces conditions were localized to auditory and visual cortices, respectively. Unsurprisingly, peak activation strength of evoked responses was larger for famous versus nonfamous names within the superior temporal gyrus (STG), and was similar for famous and nonfamous faces in the occipital cortex. More relevant to the issue of experience on perception, peak activation strength in the STG was larger for viewed famous versus nonfamous faces, and peak activation within the occipital cortex was larger for heard famous versus nonfamous names. Critically, these experience-related responses were present within 150–250 msec of stimulus onset. These findings support the hypothesis that prior experiences may influence processing of faces and names such that perception encompasses more than what is imparted on the senses.