We studied the brain activation patterns in two visual image processing tasks requiring judgements on object construction (FIT task) or object sameness (SAME task). Eight right-handed healthy human subjects (four women and four men) performed the two tasks in a randomized block design while 5-mm, multislice functional images of the whole brain were acquired using a 4-tesla system using blood oxygenation dependent (BOLD) activation. Pairs of objects were picked randomly from a set of 25 oriented fragments of a square and presented to the subjects approximately every 5 sec. In the FIT task, subjects had to indicate, by pushing one of two buttons, whether the two fragments could match to form a perfect square, whereas in the SAME task they had to decide whether they were the same or not. In a control task, preceding and following each of the two tasks above, a single square was presented at the same rate and subjects pushed any of the two keys at random. Functional activation maps were constructed based on a combination of conservative criteria. The areas with activated pixels were identified using Talairach coordinates and anatomical landmarks, and the number of activated pixels was determined for each area. Altogether, 379 pixels were activated. The counts of activated pixels did not differ significantly between the two tasks or between the two genders. However, there were significantly more activated pixels in the left (n = 218) than the right side of the brain (n = 161).

Of the 379 activated pixels, 371 were located in the cerebral cortex. The Talairach coordinates of these pixels were analyzed with respect to their overall distribution in the two tasks. These distributions differed significantly between the two tasks. With respect to individual dimensions, the two tasks differed significantly in the anterior-posterior and superior-inferior distributions but not in the left-right (including mediolateral, within the left or right side) distribution. Specifically, the FIT distribution was, overall, more anterior and inferior than that of the SAME task.

A detailed analysis of the counts and spatial distributions of activated pixels was carried out for 15 brain areas (all in the cerebral cortex) in which a consistent activation (in ≥ 3 subjects) was observed (n = 323 activated pixels). We found the following. Except for the inferior temporal gyrus, which was activated exclusively in the FIT task, all other areas showed activation in both tasks but to different extents. Based on the extent of activation, areas fell within two distinct groups (FIT or SAME) depending on which pixel count (i.e., FIT or SAME) was greater. The FIT group consisted of the following areas, in decreasing FIT/SAME order (brackets indicate ties): GTi, GTs, GC, GFi, GFd, [GTm, GF], GO. The SAME group consisted of the following areas, in decreasing SAME/FIT order: GOi, LPs, Sca, GPrC, GPoC, [GFs, GFm]. These results indicate that there are distributed, graded, and partially overlapping patterns of activation during performance of the two tasks. We attribute these overlapping patterns of activation to the engagement of partially shared processes.

Activated pixels clustered to three types of clusters: FIT-only (111 pixels), SAME-only (97 pixels), and FIT + SAME (115 pixels). Pixels contained in FIT-only and SAME-only clusters were distributed approximately equally between the left and right hemispheres, whereas pixels in the SAME + FIT clusters were located mostly in the left hemisphere. With respect to gender, the left-right distribution of activated pixels was very similar in women and men for the SAME-only and FIT + SAME clusters but differed for the FIT-only case in which there was a prominent left side preponderance for women, in contrast to a right side preponderance for men. We conclude that (a) cortical mechanisms common for processing visual object construction and discrimination involve mostly the left hemisphere, (b) cortical mechanisms specific for these tasks engage both hemispheres, and (c) in object construction only, men engage predominantly the right hemisphere whereas women show a left-hemisphere preponderance.

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