Objects belonging to different categories evoke reliably different fMRI activity patterns in human occipitotemporal cortex, with the most prominent distinction being that between animate and inanimate objects. An unresolved question is whether these categorical distinctions reflect category-associated visual properties of objects or whether they genuinely reflect object category. Here, we addressed this question by measuring fMRI responses to animate and inanimate objects that were closely matched for shape and low-level visual features. Univariate contrasts revealed animate- and inanimate-preferring regions in ventral and lateral temporal cortex even for individually matched object pairs (e.g., snake–rope). Using representational similarity analysis, we mapped out brain regions in which the pairwise dissimilarity of multivoxel activity patterns (neural dissimilarity) was predicted by the objects' pairwise visual dissimilarity and/or their categorical dissimilarity. Visual dissimilarity was measured as the time it took participants to find a unique target among identical distractors in three visual search experiments, where we separately quantified overall dissimilarity, outline dissimilarity, and texture dissimilarity. All three visual dissimilarity structures predicted neural dissimilarity in regions of visual cortex. Interestingly, these analyses revealed several clusters in which categorical dissimilarity predicted neural dissimilarity after regressing out visual dissimilarity. Together, these results suggest that the animate–inanimate organization of human visual cortex is not fully explained by differences in the characteristic shape or texture properties of animals and inanimate objects. Instead, representations of visual object properties and object category may coexist in more anterior parts of the visual system.

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