Revisiting the Role of the Fusiform Face Area in Expertise

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23 Citations (Scopus)


The fusiform face area (FFA) is considered to be a highly specialized brain module because of its central importance for face perception. However, many researchers claim that the FFA is a general visual expertise module that distinguishes between individual examples within a single category. Here, I circumvent the shortcomings of some previous studies on the FFA controversy by using chess stimuli, which do not visually resemble faces, together with more sensitive methods of analysis such as multivariate pattern analysis. I also extend the previous research by presenting chess positions, complex scenes with multiple objects, and their interrelations to chess experts and novices as well as isolated chess objects. The first experiment demonstrates that chess expertise modulated the FFA activation when chess positions were presented. In contrast, single chess objects did not produce different activation patterns among experts and novices even when the multivariate pattern analysis was used. The second experiment focused on the single chess objects and featured an explicit task of identifying the chess objects but failed to demonstrate expertise effects in the FFA. The experiments provide support for the general expertise view of the FFA function but also extend the scope of our understanding about the function of the FFA. The FFA does not merely distinguish between different exemplars within the same category of stimuli. More likely, it parses complex multiobject stimuli that contain numerous functional and spatial relations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1345-1357
JournalJournal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Issue number9
Early online date29 Jul 2016
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2016


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