Facephenes and rainbows: Causal evidence for functional and anatomical specificity of face and color processing in the human brain

TitleFacephenes and rainbows: Causal evidence for functional and anatomical specificity of face and color processing in the human brain
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsSchalk, G, Kapeller, C, Guger, C, Ogawa, H, Hiroshima, S, Lafer-Sousa, R, Saygin, ZM, Kamada, K, Kanwisher, N
JournalProc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A.
Date PublishedNov
Keywordscortical specificity; electrical stimulation; fusiform face area

Neuroscientists have long debated whether some regions of the human brain are exclusively engaged in a single specific mental process. Consistent with this view, fMRI has revealed cortical regions that respond selectively to certain stimulus classes such as faces. However, results from multivoxel pattern analyses (MVPA) challenge this view by demonstrating that category-selective regions often contain information about "nonpreferred" stimulus dimensions. But is this nonpreferred information causally relevant to behavior? Here we report a rare opportunity to test this question in a neurosurgical patient implanted for clinical reasons with strips of electrodes along his fusiform gyri. Broadband gamma electrocorticographic responses in multiple adjacent electrodes showed strong selectivity for faces in a region corresponding to the fusiform face area (FFA), and preferential responses to color in a nearby site, replicating earlier reports. To test the causal role of these regions in the perception of nonpreferred dimensions, we then electrically stimulated individual sites while the patient viewed various objects. When stimulated in the FFA, the patient reported seeing an illusory face (or "facephene"), independent of the object viewed. Similarly, stimulation of color-preferring sites produced illusory "rainbows." Crucially, the patient reported no change in the object viewed, apart from the facephenes and rainbows apparently superimposed on them. The functional and anatomical specificity of these effects indicate that some cortical regions are exclusively causally engaged in a single specific mental process, and prompt caution about the widespread assumption that any information scientists can decode from the brain is causally relevant to behavior.

PubMed ID29087337

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