Journal of Neuroscience vol:28 issue:40 pages:10111-10123
Humans rely heavily on shape similarity among objects for object categorization and identification. Studies using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) have shown that a large region in human occipitotemporal cortex processes the shape of meaningful as well as unfamiliar objects. Here, we investigate whether the functional organization of this region as measured with fMRI is related to perceived shape similarity. We found that unfamiliar object classes that are rated as having a similar shape were associated with a very similar response pattern distributed across object-selective cortex, whereas object classes that were rated as being very different in shape were associated with a more different response pattern. Human observers, as well as object-selective cortex, were very sensitive to differences in shape features of the objects such as straight versus curved versus "spiky" edges, more so than to differences in overall shape envelope. Response patterns in retinotopic areas V1, V2, and V4 were not found to be related to perceived shape. The functional organization in area V3 was partially related to perceived shape but without a stronger sensitivity for shape features relative to overall shape envelope. Thus, for unfamiliar objects, the organization of human object-selective cortex is strongly related to perceived shape, and this shape-based organization emerges gradually throughout the object vision pathway.