Scratching beneath the surface: New insights into the functional properties of the lateral occipital area and parahippocampal place area Academic Article uri icon


  • We used fMRI on neurologically intact humans to investigate whether or not there are different neural substrates for the different kinds of information that a visual surface signals (shape from texture vs material properties from texture). Participants attended to differences in the shape (flat/convex), texture and color (wood/rock), or material properties (soft/hard) of a set of circular surfaces. Attending to shape activated the contour-sensitive lateral occipital (LO) area, and attending to texture activated a region of the collateral sulcus (CoS) that overlaps with the parahippocampal place area (PPA). Interestingly, attending to material properties activated the same texture-sensitive region in the CoS. These results demonstrate the existence of different neural substrates for the different types of information that a visual surface signals. With regard to object shape, the organization of the LO area may be complex, with neurons tuned not only to the outline shape of objects, but also to their surface curvature independent of contour. Moreover, to our knowledge, this is the first study to demonstrate that processing surface texture, which occurs within the scene-sensitive PPA, is a route to accessing knowledge about an object's material properties. With this in mind, we propose that models of visual cortical organization should focus not only on the particular stimulus category to which a region maximally responds (e.g., objects, scenes), but also on the stimulus attributes that best support the processing of that category (e.g., shape, texture, material properties).

publication date

  • 2011