Skip to main content Accessibility help

Neural substrates of object identification: Functional magnetic resonance imaging evidence that category and visual attribute contribute to semantic knowledge

  • CHRISTINA E. WIERENGA (a1) (a2) (a3), WILLIAM M. PERLSTEIN (a2) (a3), MICHELLE BENJAMIN (a2) (a3), CHRISTIANA M. LEONARD (a3) (a4), LESLIE GONZALEZ ROTHI (a1) (a2) (a3) (a5), TIM CONWAY (a1) (a2) (a3), M. ALLISON CATO (a6), KAUNDINYA GOPINATH (a7) (a8), RICHARD BRIGGS (a8) (a9) and BRUCE CROSSON (a1) (a2) (a3)...


Recent findings suggest that neural representations of semantic knowledge contain information about category, modality, and attributes. Although an object’s category is defined according to shared attributes that uniquely distinguish it from other category members, a clear dissociation between visual attribute and category representation has not yet been reported. We investigated the contribution of category (living and nonliving) and visual attribute (global form and local details) to semantic representation in the fusiform gyrus. During functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), 40 adults named pictures of animals, tools, and vehicles. In a preliminary study, identification of objects in these categories was differentially dependent on global versus local visual feature processing. fMRI findings indicate that activation in the lateral and medial regions of the fusiform gyrus distinguished stimuli according to category, that is, living versus nonliving, respectively. In contrast, visual attributes of global form (animals) were associated with higher activity in the right fusiform gyrus, while local details (tools) were associated with higher activity in the left fusiform gyrus. When both global and local attributes were relevant to processing (vehicles), cortex in both left and right medial fusiform gyri was more active than for other categories. Taken together, results support distinctions in the role of visual attributes and category in semantic representation. (JINS, 2009, 15, 169–181.)


Corresponding author

*Correspondence and reprint requests to: Christina E. Wierenga, UCSD Department of Psychiatry, VA San Diego Healthcare System, Psychology Service (151B), 3350 La Jolla Village Drive, San Diego, California 92161. E-mail:


Hide All
Alathari, L., Trinh Ngo, C., & Dopkins, S. (2004). Loss of distinctive features and a broader pattern of priming in Alzheimer’s disease. Neuropsychology, 18, 603612.
Barry, C. & McHattie, J.V. (1995). Problems naming animals: Category-specific anomia or a misnomer? In Campbell, R. & Conway, M.A. (Eds.), Broken memories: Case studies in memory impairment, 237248. New York: Blackwell.
Beauchamp, M.S., Lee, K.E., Haxby, J.V., & Martin, A. (2003). fMRI responses to video and point-light displays of moving humans and manipulable objects. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 15, 9911001.
Belger, A., Puce, A., Krystal, J.H., Gore, J.C., Goldman-Rakic, P., & McCarthy, G. (1998). Dissociation of mnemonic and perceptual processes during spatial and nonspatial working memory using fMRI. Human Brain Mapping, 6, 1432.
Birn, R.M., Saad, Z.S., & Bandettini, P.A. (2001). Spatial heterogeneity of the nonlinear dynamics in the fMRI BOLD response. NeuroImage, 14, 817826.
Boronat, C.B., Buxbaum, L.J., Coslett, H.B., Tang, K., Saffran, E.M., Kimberg, D.Y., & Detre, J.A. (2005). Distinctions between manipulation and function knowledge of objects: Evidence from functional magnetic resonance imaging. Cognitive Brain Research, 23, 361373.
Carter, C., Macdonald, A.M., Botvinick, M., Ross, L., Stenger, V.A., Noll, D., & Cohen, J.D. (2000). Parsing executive processes: Strategic vs. evaluative functions of the anterior cingulated cortex. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 97, 19441948.
Chao, L., Haxby, J., & Martin, A. (1999). Attribute-based neural substrates in temporal cortex for perceiving and knowing about objects. Nature Neuroscience, 2, 913919.
Chao, L. & Martin, A. (2000). Representation of manipulable man-made objects in the dorsal stream. NeuroImage, 12, 478484.
Coltheart, M. (1981). The MRC psycholinguistic database. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 33A, 497505.
Coltheart, M., Inglis, L., Cupples, L., Michie, P., & Budd, W. (1998). A semantic subsystem of visual attributes. Neurocase, 4, 353370.
Cox, R.W. (1996). AFNI: Software for analysis and visualization of functional magnetic resonance neuroimages. Computers in Biomedical Research, 29, 162173.
Crosson, B., Cato, M.A., Sadek, J.R., & Lu, L. (2000). Organization of semantic knowledge in the human brain: Toward a resolution in the next millennium. Brain and Cognition, 42, 146148.
Crosson, B., Moberg, P.J., Boone, J.R., Gonzalez Rothi, L.J., & Raymer, A. (1997). Category-specific naming deficit for medical terms after dominant thalamic/capsular hemorrhage. Brain and Language, 60, 407442.
Damasio, H., Grabowski, T.J., Tranel, D., Hichwa, R.D., & Damasio, A.R. (1996). A neural basis for lexical retrieval. Nature, 380, 499505.
De Renzi, E. & Lucchelli, F. (1994). Are semantic systems separately represented in the brain? The case of living category impairment. Cortex, 30, 325.
Delis, D., Massman, P., Butters, N., Salmon, D., Shear, P., Demadura, T., & Filoteo, J. (1992). Spatial cognition in Alzheimer’s disease: Subtypes of global-local impairment. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, 14, 463477.
Devlin, J.T., Moore, C.J., Mummery, C.J., Gorno-Tempini, M.L., Phillips, J.A., Noppeney, U., Frackowiak, R.S., Friston, K.J., & Price, C.J. (2002). Anatomic constraints on cognitive theories of category specificity. NeuroImage, 15, 675685.
Done, D.J. & Hajilou, B.B. (2005). Loss of high-level perceptual knowledge of object structure in DAT. Neuropsychologia, 43, 6068.
Doyon, J. & Milner, B. (1991). Right temporal-lobe contribution to global visual processing. Neuropsychologia, 29, 343360.
Farah, M.J. & Wallace, M.A. (1992). Semantically-bounded anomia: Implications for the neural implementation of naming. Neuropsychologia, 30, 609621.
Folstein, M.F., Folstein, S.E., & McHugh, P.R. (1975). ‘Mini-mental State’. A practical method for grading the cognitive status of patients for the clinician. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 12, 189198.
Gainotti, G. & Silveri, M.C. (1996). Cognitive and anatomical locus of lesion in a patient with a category-specific semantic impairment for living beings. Cognitive Neuropsychology, 13, 357389.
Gerlach, C., Law, I., Gade, A., & Paulson, O.B. (2000). Categorization and category effects in normal object recognition: A PET study. Neuropsychologia, 38, 16931703.
Gerlach, C., Law, I., Gade, A., & Paulson, O.B. (2002). The role of action knowledge in the comprehension of artifacts: A PET study. NeuroImage, 15, 143152.
Goodglass, H. & Wingfield, A. (1993). Selective preservation of a lexical category in aphasia: Dissociations in comprehension of body parts and geographical place names following focal brain lesion. Memory, 1, 313328.
Harley, T.A. & Grant, F. (2004). The role of functional and perceptual attributes: Evidence from picture naming in dementia. Brain and Language, 91, 223234.
Hart, J. & Gordon, B. (1992). Neural subsystems for object knowledge. Nature, 359, 6064.
Hauk, O., Johnsrude, I., & Pulvermüller, F. (2004). Somatotopic representation of action words in human motor and premotor cortex. Neuron, 41, 301307.
Heilman, K.M. & Valenstein, E. (1993). Clinical Neuropsychology (3rd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.
Hillis, A.E. & Caramazza, A. (1991). Category-specific naming and comprehension impairment: A double dissociation. Brain, 114, 20812094.
Hillis, A.E., Rapp, B., Romani, C., & Caramazza, A. (1990). Selective impairments of semantics in lexical processing. Cognitive Neuropsychology, 7, 191243.
Humphreys, G.W., Riddoch, M.J., & Quinlan, P.T. (1988). Cascade processes in picture identification. Cognitive Neuropsychology, 5, 67103.
Ishai, A., Ungerleider, L., Martin, A., Schouten, J., & Haxby, J. (1999). Distributed representation of objects in the human ventral visual pathway. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 96, 93799384.
Kellenbach, M.L., Brett, M., & Patterson, K. (2003). Actions speak louder than functions: The importance of manipulability and action in tool representation. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 15, 3046.
Kraut, M.A., Moo, L.R., Segal, J.B., & Hart, J. (2002). Neural activation during an explicit categorization task: Category- or feature-specific effects? Brain Research Cognitive Brain Research, 13, 213220.
Kucera, H. & Francis, W. (1967). Computational analysis of present-day American English. Providence, RI: Brown University Press.
Laws, K., Evans, J., Hodges, J., & McCarthy, R. (1995). Naming without knowing and appearance without associations: Evidence for constructive processes in semantic memory? Memory, 3, 409433.
Martin, A., Haxby, J., Lalonde, F., Wiggs, S., & Ungerleider, L. (1995). Discrete cortical regions associated with knowledge of color and knowledge of action. Science, 270, 102105.
Martin, A., Wiggs, C.L., Ungerleider, L.G., & Haxby, J.V. (1996). Neural correlates of category-specific knowledge. Nature, 379, 649652.
Oldfield, R.C. (1971). The assessment and analysis of handedness: The Edinburgh Inventory. Neuropsychologia, 9, 97113.
Pulvermüller, F. (2001). Brain reflections of words and their meaning. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 5, 517524.
Pulvermüller, F., Harle, M., & Hummel, F. (2001). Walking or talking? Behavioral and neurophysiological correlates of action verb processing. Brain and Language, 78, 143168.
Sacchett, C. & Humphreys, G. (1992). Calling a squirrel a squirrel, but a canoe a wigwam: A category-specific deficit for artefactual objects and body parts. Cognitive Neuropsychology, 9, 7386.
Shapiro, A.M., Benedict, R.H., Schretlen, D., & Brandt, J. (1999). Construct and concurrent validity of the Hopkins Verbal Learning Test-revised. Clinical Neuropsychology, 13, 348358.
Sheridan, J. & Humphreys, G. (1993). A verbal-semantic category-specific recognition impairment. Cognitive Neuropsychology, 10, 143184.
Silveri, M. & Gainotti, G. (1988). Interaction between vision and language in category-specific semantic impairment. Cognitive Neuropsychology, 5, 677709.
Talairach, J. & Tournoux, P. (1988). Co-planar stereotaxic atlas of the human brain. New York: Thiem Medical Publishers.
Taylor, K.I., Moss, H.E., & Tyler, L.K. (2007). Cognitive model of semantic memory. In Hart, J. Jr & Kraut, M.A. (Eds.), Neural basis of semantic memory (pp. 265301). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Tyler, L.K., Stamatakis, E.A., Dick, E., Bright, P., Fletcher, P., & Moss, H. (2003). Objects and their actions: Evidence for a neurally distributed semantic system. NeuroImage, 18, 542557.
Ungerleider, L.G. & Mishkin, M. (1982). Two cortical visual systems. In Ingle, D.J., Goodale, M.A., & Mansfield, R.J.W. (Eds.), Analysis of visual behavior (pp. 549586). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Vandenberghe, R., Price, C., Wise, R., Josephs, O., & Frackowiak, R. (1996). Functional anatomy of a common semantic system for words and pictures. Nature, 383, 254256.
Vannucci, M., Viggiano, M.P., & Argenti, F. (2001). Identification of spatially filtered stimuli as function of the semantic category. Cognitive Brain Research, 12, 475478.
Warrington, E. & Shallice, T. (1984). Category specific semantic impairments. Brain, 107, 829854.
Weisberg, J., van Turennout, M., & Martin, A. (2007). A neural system for learning about object function. Cerebral Cortex, 17, 513521.
Whatmough, C., Chertkow, H., Murtha, S., & Hanratty, K. (2002). Dissociable brain regions process object meaning and object structure during picture naming. Neuropsychologia, 40, 174186.
Wierenga, C.E., Benjamin, M., Gopinath, K., Perlstein, W.M., Leonard, C.M., Gonzalez Rothi, L.J., Conway, T., Cato, M.A., Briggs, R., & Crosson, B. (2008). Age-related changes in word retrieval: Role of bilateral frontal and subcortical networks. Neurobiology of Aging, 29, 436451.
Wilson, F.A., Scalaidhe, S.P., & Goldman-Rakic, P.S. (1993). Dissociation of object and spatial processing domains in primate prefrontal cortex. Science, 260, 19551958.


Related content

Powered by UNSILO

Neural substrates of object identification: Functional magnetic resonance imaging evidence that category and visual attribute contribute to semantic knowledge

  • CHRISTINA E. WIERENGA (a1) (a2) (a3), WILLIAM M. PERLSTEIN (a2) (a3), MICHELLE BENJAMIN (a2) (a3), CHRISTIANA M. LEONARD (a3) (a4), LESLIE GONZALEZ ROTHI (a1) (a2) (a3) (a5), TIM CONWAY (a1) (a2) (a3), M. ALLISON CATO (a6), KAUNDINYA GOPINATH (a7) (a8), RICHARD BRIGGS (a8) (a9) and BRUCE CROSSON (a1) (a2) (a3)...


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.