Perception of faces has been shown to engage a domain-specific set of brain regions, including the occipital face area (OFA) and the fusiform face area (FFA). It is commonly held that the OFA is responsible for the detection of faces in the environment, whereas the FFA is responsible for processing the identity of the face. However, an alternative model posits that the FFA is responsible for face detection and subsequently recruits the OFA to analyze the face parts in the service of identification. An essential prediction of the former model is that the OFA is not sensitive to the arrangement of internal face parts. In the current fMRI study, we test the sensitivity of the OFA and FFA to the configuration of face parts. Participants were shown faces in which the internal parts were presented in a typical configuration (two eyes above a nose above a mouth) or in an atypical configuration (the locations of individual parts were shuffled within the face outline). Perception of the atypical faces evoked a significantly larger response than typical faces in the OFA and in a wide swath of the surrounding posterior occipitotemporal cortices. Surprisingly, typical faces did not evoke a significantly larger response than atypical faces anywhere in the brain, including the FFA (although some subthreshold differences were observed). We propose that face processing in the FFA results in inhibitory sculpting of activation in the OFA, which accounts for this region's weaker response to typical than to atypical configurations.

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