The Faces in Radiological Images: Fusiform Face Area Supports Radiological Expertise

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The fusiform face area (FFA) has often been used as an example of a brain module that was developed through evolution to serve a specific purpose—face processing. Many believe, however, that FFA is responsible for holistic processing associated with any kind of expertise. The expertise view has been tested with various stimuli, with mixed results. One of the main stumbling blocks in the FFA controversy has been the fact that the stimuli used have been similar to faces. Here, we circumvent the problem by using radiological images, X-rays, which bear no resemblance to faces. We demonstrate that FFA can distinguish between X-rays and other stimuli by employing multivariate pattern analysis. The sensitivity to X-rays was significantly better in experienced radiologists than that in medical students with limited radiological experience. For the radiologists, it was also possible to use the patterns of FFA activations obtained on faces to differentiate X-ray stimuli from other stimuli. The overlap in the FFA activation is not based on visual similarity of faces and X-rays but rather on the processes necessary for expertise with both kinds of stimulus. Our results support the expertise view that FFA's main function is related to holistic processing.

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