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      Functional specificity in the human brain: A window into the functional architecture of the mind

      Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

      Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

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          Abstract

          Is the human mind/brain composed of a set of highly specialized components, each carrying out a specific aspect of human cognition, or is it more of a general-purpose device, in which each component participates in a wide variety of cognitive processes? For nearly two centuries, proponents of specialized organs or modules of the mind and brain--from the phrenologists to Broca to Chomsky and Fodor--have jousted with the proponents of distributed cognitive and neural processing--from Flourens to Lashley to McClelland and Rumelhart. I argue here that research using functional MRI is beginning to answer this long-standing question with new clarity and precision by indicating that at least a few specific aspects of cognition are implemented in brain regions that are highly specialized for that process alone. Cortical regions have been identified that are specialized not only for basic sensory and motor processes but also for the high-level perceptual analysis of faces, places, bodies, visually presented words, and even for the very abstract cognitive function of thinking about another person's thoughts. I further consider the as-yet unanswered questions of how much of the mind and brain are made up of these functionally specialized components and how they arise developmentally.

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          Most cited references 66

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          A cortical representation of the local visual environment.

          Medial temporal brain regions such as the hippocampal formation and parahippocampal cortex have been generally implicated in navigation and visual memory. However, the specific function of each of these regions is not yet clear. Here we present evidence that a particular area within human parahippocampal cortex is involved in a critical component of navigation: perceiving the local visual environment. This region, which we name the 'parahippocampal place area' (PPA), responds selectively and automatically in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to passively viewed scenes, but only weakly to single objects and not at all to faces. The critical factor for this activation appears to be the presence in the stimulus of information about the layout of local space. The response in the PPA to scenes with spatial layout but no discrete objects (empty rooms) is as strong as the response to complex meaningful scenes containing multiple objects (the same rooms furnished) and over twice as strong as the response to arrays of multiple objects without three-dimensional spatial context (the furniture from these rooms on a blank background). This response is reduced if the surfaces in the scene are rearranged so that they no longer define a coherent space. We propose that the PPA represents places by encoding the geometry of the local environment.
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            A cortical area selective for visual processing of the human body.

            Despite extensive evidence for regions of human visual cortex that respond selectively to faces, few studies have considered the cortical representation of the appearance of the rest of the human body. We present a series of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies revealing substantial evidence for a distinct cortical region in humans that responds selectively to images of the human body, as compared with a wide range of control stimuli. This region was found in the lateral occipitotemporal cortex in all subjects tested and apparently reflects a specialized neural system for the visual perception of the human body.
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              Matching categorical object representations in inferior temporal cortex of man and monkey.

              Inferior temporal (IT) object representations have been intensively studied in monkeys and humans, but representations of the same particular objects have never been compared between the species. Moreover, IT's role in categorization is not well understood. Here, we presented monkeys and humans with the same images of real-world objects and measured the IT response pattern elicited by each image. In order to relate the representations between the species and to computational models, we compare response-pattern dissimilarity matrices. IT response patterns form category clusters, which match between man and monkey. The clusters correspond to animate and inanimate objects; within the animate objects, faces and bodies form subclusters. Within each category, IT distinguishes individual exemplars, and the within-category exemplar similarities also match between the species. Our findings suggest that primate IT across species may host a common code, which combines a categorical and a continuous representation of objects.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
                Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
                Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
                0027-8424
                1091-6490
                June 22 2010
                June 22 2010
                May 19 2010
                June 22 2010
                : 107
                : 25
                : 11163-11170
                Article
                10.1073/pnas.1005062107
                2895137
                20484679
                © 2010
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