Perceived animacy influences the processing of human-like surface features in the fusiform gyrus

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Abstract

While decades of research have demonstrated that a region of the right fusiform gyrus (FG) responds selectively to faces, a second line of research suggests that the FG responds to a range of animacy cues, including biological motion and goal-directed actions, even in the absence of faces or other human-like surface features. These findings raise the question of whether the FG is indeed sensitive to faces or to the more abstract category of animate agents. The current study uses fMRI to examine whether the FG responds to all faces in a category-specific way or whether the FG is especially sensitive to the faces of animate agents. Animate agents are defined here as intentional agents with the capacity for rational goal-directed actions. Specifically, we examine how the FG responds to an entity that looks like an animate agent but that lacks the capacity for goal-directed rational action. Region-of-interest analyses reveal that the FG activates more strongly to the animate compared with the inanimate entity, even though the surface features of both animate and inanimate entities were identical. These results suggest that the FG does not respond to all faces in a category-specific way, and is instead especially sensitive to whether an entity is animate.

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