The fusiform face area (FFA) is one of several areas in occipito-temporal cortex whose activity is correlated with perceptual expertise for objects. Here, we investigate the robustness of expertise effects in FFA and other areas to a strong task manipulation that increases both perceptual and attentional demands. With high-resolution fMRI at 7T, we measured responses to images of cars, faces and a category globally visually similar to cars (sofas) in 26 subjects who varied in expertise with cars, in (a) a low load 1-back task with a single object category and (b) a high load task in which objects from two categories were rapidly alternated and attention was required to both categories. The low load condition revealed several areas more active as a function of expertise, including both posterior and anterior portions of FFA bilaterally (FFA1/FFA2, respectively). Under high load, fewer areas were positively correlated with expertise and several areas were even negatively correlated, but the expertise effect in face-selective voxels in the anterior portion of FFA (FFA2) remained robust. Finally, we found that behavioral car expertise also predicted increased responses to sofa images but no behavioral advantages in sofa discrimination, suggesting that global shape similarity to a category of expertise is enough to elicit a response in FFA and other areas sensitive to experience, even when the category itself is not of special interest. The robustness of expertise effects in right FFA2 and the expertise effects driven by visual similarity both argue against attention being the sole determinant of expertise effects in extrastriate areas.
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