Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
The degree to which face-specific brain regions are specialized for different kinds of perceptual processing is debated. This study parametrically varied demands on featural, first-order configural, or second-order configural processing of faces and houses in a perceptual matching task to determine the extent to which the process of perceptual differentiation was selective for faces regardless of processing type (domain-specific account), specialized for specific types of perceptual processing regardless of category (process-specific account), engaged in category-optimized processing (i.e., configural face processing or featural house processing), or reflected generalized perceptual differentiation (i.e., differentiation that crosses category and processing type boundaries). ROIs were identified in a separate localizer run or with a similarity regressor in the face-matching runs. The predominant principle accounting for fMRI signal modulation in most regions was generalized perceptual differentiation. Nearly all regions showed perceptual differentiation for both faces and houses for more than one processing type, even if the region was identified as face-preferential in the localizer run. Consistent with process specificity, some regions showed perceptual differentiation for first-order processing of faces and houses (right fusiform face area and occipito-temporal cortex and right lateral occipital complex), but not for featural or second-order processing. Somewhat consistent with domain specificity, the right inferior frontal gyrus showed perceptual differentiation only for faces in the featural matching task. The present findings demonstrate that the majority of regions involved in perceptual differentiation of faces are also involved in differentiation of other visually homogenous categories.