Attention is a neurocognitive mechanism that selects task-relevant sensory or mnemonic information to achieve current behavioral goals. Attentional modulation of cortical activity has been observed when attention is directed to specific locations, features, or objects. However, little is known about how high-level categorization task set modulates perceptual representations. In the current study, observers categorized faces by gender (male vs. female) or race (Asian vs. White). Each face was perceptually ambiguous in both dimensions, such that categorization of one dimension demanded selective attention to task-relevant information within the face. We used multivoxel pattern classification to show that task-specific modulations evoke reliably distinct spatial patterns of activity within three face-selective cortical regions (right fusiform face area and bilateral occipital face areas). This result suggests that patterns of activity in these regions reflect not only stimulus-specific (i.e., faces vs. houses) responses but also task-specific (i.e., race vs. gender) attentional modulation. Furthermore, exploratory whole-brain multivoxel pattern classification (using a searchlight procedure) revealed a network of dorsal fronto-parietal regions (left middle frontal gyrus and left inferior and superior parietal lobule) that also exhibit distinct patterns for the two task sets, suggesting that these regions may represent abstract goals during high-level categorization tasks.

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