Peer-Reviewed Articles

Leshinskaya, A., & Caramazza, A. (2016). For a cognitive neuroscience of concepts: Moving beyond the grounding issue. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review , 1-11. Full TextAbstract

Cognitive neuroscience research on conceptual knowledge often is discussed with respect to “embodiment” or “grounding.” We tried to disentangle at least three distinct claims made using these terms. One of these, the view that concepts are entirely reducible to sensory-motor representations, is untenable and diminishing in the literature. A second is the view that concepts and sensory-motor representations “interact,” and a third view addresses the question of how concepts are neurally organized—the neural partitions among concepts of different kinds, and where these partitions are localized in cortex. We argue that towards the second and third issues, much fruitful research can be pursued, but that no position on them is specifically related to “grounding.” Furthermore, to move forward on them, it is important to precisely distinguish different kinds of representations—conceptual vs. sensory-motor—from each other theoretically and empirically. Neuroimaging evidence often lacks such specificity. We take an approach that distinguishes conceptual from sensory-motor representations by virtue of two properties: broad generality and tolerance to the absence of sensory-motor associations. We review three of our recent experiments that employ these criteria in order to localize neural representations of several specific kinds of nonsensory attributes: functions, intentions, and belief traits. Building on past work, we find that neuroimaging evidence can be used fruitfully to distinguish interesting hypotheses about neural organization. On the other hand, most such evidence does not speak to any clear notion of “grounding” or “embodiment,” because these terms do not make clear, specific, empirical predictions. We argue that cognitive neuroscience will proceed most fruitfully by relinquishing these terms.

Edigi, G., & Caramazza, A. (2016). Integration Processes Compared: Cortical Differences for Consistency Evaluation and Passive Comprehension in Local and Global Coherence. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience.Abstract

This research studies the neural systems underlying two integration processes that take place during natural discourse comprehension: consistency evaluation and passive comprehension. Evaluation was operationalized with a consistency judgment task and passive comprehension with a passive listening task. Using fMRI, the experiment examined the integration of incoming sentences with more recent, local context and with more distal, global context in these two tasks. The stimuli were stories in which we manipulated the consistency of the endings with the local context and the relevance of the global context for the integration of the endings. A whole-brain analysis revealed several differences between the two tasks. Two networks previously associated with semantic processing and attention orienting showed more activation during the judgment than the passive listening task. A network previously associated with episodic memory retrieval and construction of mental scenes showed greater activity when global context was relevant, but only during the judgment task. This suggests that evaluation, more than passive listening, triggers the reinstantiation of global context and the construction of a rich mental model for the story. Finally, a network previously linked to fluent updating of a knowledge base showed greater activity for locally consistent endings than inconsistent ones, but only during passive listening, suggesting a mode of comprehension that relies on a local scope approach to language processing. Taken together, these results show that consistency evaluation and passive comprehension weigh differently on distal and local information and are implemented, in part, by different brain networks.

Vannuscorps, G., & Caramazza, A. (2016). The origin of the biomechanical bias in apparent body movement perception. Neuropsychologia.Abstract

The perception of apparent body movement sometimes follows biologically plausible paths rather than paths along the shortest distance as in the case for inanimate objects. For numerous authors, this demonstrates that the somatosensory and motor representations of the observer's own body support and constrain the perception of others’ body movements. In this paper, we report evidence that calls for a re-examination of this account. We presented an apparent upper limb movement perception task to typically developed participants and five individuals born without upper limbs who were, therefore, totally deprived of somatosensory or motor representations of those limbs. Like the typically developed participants, they showed the typical bias toward long and biomechanically plausible path. This finding suggests that the computations underlying the biomechanical bias in apparent body movement perception is intrinsic to the visual system.

Wang, X., Peelen, M. V., Han, Z., Caramazza, A., & Bi, Y. (2016). The role of vision in the neural representation of unique entities. Neuropsychologia , 87, 144-156. Full Text
Porter, K. B., Mazza, V., Garofalo, A., & Caramazza, A. (2016). Visual object individuation occurs over object wholes, parts, and even holes. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics.Abstract

Segmentation of the world into meaningful units has typically been described as object individuation, emphasizing the spatially disconnected quality that comes as a result of objecthood. This segmentation can occur rapidly, even in parallel for multiple objects. It remains unclear whether objecthood is a necessary requirement for parallel individuation, or whether target features in distinct locations, such as object parts, may also be individuated in parallel. In a series of six experiments, we used a rapid enumeration task to test whether subitizing, a phenomenon believed to result from parallel individuation, occurs over object parts. We found that subitizing and individuation occur over connected object parts as well as physically separate objects of varied shapes and sizes. We also observed subitizing when target items are indents, features intrinsic to the shape of the object, and when cues for occlusion were removed. The results of these studies suggest that parallel individuation is not bound to objecthood, and can occur over object parts existing in separate locations.

Bi, Y., Wang, X., & Caramazza, A. (2016). Object Domain and Modality in the Ventral Visual Pathway. Trends in Cognitive Sciences , 20 (4), 282-290.Abstract

The nature of domain-specific organization in higher-order visual cortex (ventral occipital temporal cortex, VOTC) has been investigated both in the case of visual experience deprivation and of modality of stimulation in sighted individuals. Object domain interacts in an intriguing and revelatory way with visual experience and modality of stimulation: selectivity for artifacts and scene domains is largely immune to visual deprivation and is multi-modal, whereas selectivity for animate items in lateral posterior fusiform gyrus is present only with visual stimulation. This domain-by-modality interaction is not readily accommodated by existing theories of VOTC representation. We conjecture that these effects reflect a distinction between the visual features that characterize different object domains and their interaction with different types of downstream computational systems.

Vannuscorps, G., & Caramazza, A. (2016). Typical action perception and interpretation without motor simulation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences , 113 (1), 86-91.Abstract

Every day, we interact with people synchronously, immediately understand what they are doing, and easily infer their mental state and the likely outcome of their actions from their kinematics. According to various motor simulation theories of perception, such efficient perceptual processing of othersactions cannot be achieved by visual analysis of the movements alone but requires a process of motor simulationan unconscious, covert imitation of the observed movements. According to this hypothesis, individ- uals incapable of simulating observed movements in their motor system should have difficulty perceiving and interpreting ob- served actions. Contrary to this prediction, we found across eight sensitive experiments that individuals born with absent or se- verely shortened upper limbs (upper limb dysplasia), despite some variability, could perceive, anticipate, predict, comprehend, and mem- orize upper limb actions, which they cannot simulate, as efficiently as typically developed participants. We also found that, like the typically developed participants, the dysplasic participants systematically per- ceived the position of moving upper limbs slightly ahead of their real position but only when the anticipated position was not biomechan- ically awkward. Such anticipatory bias and its modulation by implicit knowledge of the body biomechanical constraints were previously considered as indexes of the crucial role of motor simulation in action perception. Our findings undermine this assumption and the theories that place the locus of action perception and comprehension in the motor system and invite a shift in the focus of future research to the question of how the visuo-perceptual system represents and pro- cesses observed body movements and actions. 

Anzellotti, S., & Caramazza, A. (2015). From Parts to Identity: Invariance and Sensitivity of Face Representations to Different Face Halves. Cerebral Cortex , 1-10. Full TextAbstract

Recognizing the identity of a face is computationally challenging, because it requires distinguishing between similar images depicting different people, while recognizing even very different images depicting a same person. Previous human fMRI studies investigated representations of face identity in the presence of changes in viewpoint and in expression. Despite the importance of holistic processing for face recognition, an investigation of representations of face identity across different face parts is missing. To fill this gap, we investigated representations of face identity and their invariance across different face halves. Information about face identity with invariance across changes in the face half was individuated in the right anterior temporal lobe, indicating this region as the most plausible candidate brain area for the representation of face identity. In a complementary analysis, information distinguishing between different face halves was found to decline along the posterior to anterior axis in the ventral stream.

Mazza, V., & Caramazza, A. (2015). Multiple object individuation and subitizing in enumeration: a view from electrophysiology. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience , 9 162.Abstract

What are the processes involved in determining that there are exactly n objects in the visual field? The core level of representation for this process is based on a mechanism that iteratively individuates each of the set of relevant objects for exact enumeration. In support of this proposal, we review recent electrophysiological findings on enumeration-at-a-glance and consider three temporally distinct responses of the EEG signal that are modulated by object numerosity, and which have been associated respectively with perceptual modulation, attention selection, and working memory. We argue that the neural response associated with attention selection shows the hallmarks of an object individuation mechanism, including the property of simultaneous individuation of a limited number of objects thought to underlie the behavioral subitizing effect. The findings support the view that the core component of exact enumeration is an attention-based individuation mechanism that binds specific features to locations and provides a stable representation of a limited set of relevant objects. The resulting representation is made available for further cognitive operations for exact enumeration.

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Wang, X., Caramazza, A., Peelen, M. V., Han, Z., & Bi, Y. (2015). Reading Without Speech Sounds: VWFA and its Connectivity in the Congenitally Deaf. Cerebral Cortex , 25 (9), 2416-2426.Abstract

The placement and development of the visual word form area (VWFA) have commonly been assumed to depend, in part, on its connections with language regions. In this study, we specifically examined the effects of auditory speech experience deprivation in shaping the VWFA by investigating its location distribution, activation strength, and functional connectivity pattern in congenitally deaf participants. We found that the location and activation strength of the VWFA in congenitally deaf participants were highly comparable with those of hearing controls. Furthermore, while the congenitally deaf group showed reduced resting-state functional connectivity between the VWFA and the auditory speech area in the left anterior superior temporal gyrus, its intrinsic functional connectivity pattern between the VWFA and a fronto-parietal network was similar to that of hearing controls. Taken together, these results suggest that auditory speech experience has consequences for aspects of the word form-speech sound correspondence network, but that such experience does not significantly modulate the VWFA's placement or response strength. This is consistent with the view that the role of the VWFA might be to provide a representation that is suitable for mapping visual word forms onto language-specific gestures without the need to construct an aural representation.

Bracci, S., Caramazza, A., & Peelen, M. V. (2015). Representational Similarity of Body Parts in Human Occipitotemporal Cortex. The Journal of Neuroscience , 35 (38), 12977-12985.Abstract

Regions in human lateral and ventral occipitotemporal cortices (OTC) respond selectively to pictures of the human body and its parts. What are the organizational principles underlying body part responses in these regions? Here we used representational similarity analysis (RSA) of fMRI data to test multiple possible organizational principles: shape similarity, physical proximity, cortical homunculus proximity, and semantic similarity. Participants viewed pictures of whole persons, chairs, and eight body parts (hands, arms, legs, feet, chests, waists, upper faces, and lower faces). The similarity of multivoxel activity patterns for all body part pairs was established in whole person-selective OTC regions. The resulting neural similarity matrices were then compared with similarity matrices capturing the hypothesized organizational principles. Results showed that the semantic similarity model best captured the neural similarity of body parts in lateral and ventral OTC, which followed an organization in three clusters: (1) body parts used as action effectors (hands, feet, arms, and legs), (2) noneffector body parts (chests and waists), and (3) face parts (upper and lower faces). Whole-brain RSA revealed, in addition to OTC, regions in parietal and frontal cortex in which neural similarity was related to semantic similarity. In contrast, neural similarity in occipital cortex was best predicted by shape similarity models. We suggest that the semantic organization of body parts in high-level visual cortex relates to the different functions associated with the three body part clusters, reflecting the unique processing and connectivity demands associated with the different types of information (e.g., action, social) different body parts (e.g., limbs, faces) convey.

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Bi, Y., Han, Z., Zhong, S., Ma, Y., Gong, G., Huang, R., Song, L., et al. (2015). The White Matter Structural Network Underlying Human Tool Use and Tool Understanding. The Journal of Neuroscience , 35 (17), 6822-6835he ability to recognize, create, and use complex tools is a milestone in human evolution. Widely distributed brain regi.Abstract

The ability to recognize, create, and use complex tools is a milestone in human evolution. Widely distributed brain regions in parietal, frontal, and temporal cortices have been implicated in using and understanding tools, but the roles of their anatomical connections in supporting tool use and tool conceptual behaviors are unclear. Using deterministic fiber tracking in healthy participants, we first examined how 14 cortical regions that are consistently activated by tool processing are connected by white matter (WM) tracts. The relationship between the integrity of each of the 33 obtained tracts and tool processing deficits across 86 brain-damaged patients was investigated. WM tract integrity was measured with both lesion percentage (structural imaging) and mean fractional anisotropy (FA) values (diffusion imaging). Behavioral abilities were assessed by a tool use task, a range of conceptual tasks, and control tasks. We found that three left hemisphere tracts connecting frontoparietal and intrafrontal areas overlapping with left superior longitudinal fasciculus are crucial for tool use such that larger lesion and lower mean FA values on these tracts were associated with more severe tool use deficits. These tracts and five additional left hemisphere tracts connecting frontal and temporal/parietal regions, mainly overlapping with left superior longitudinal fasciculus, inferior frontooccipital fasciculus, uncinate fasciculus, and anterior thalamic radiation, are crucial for tool concept processing. Largely consistent results were also obtained using voxel-based symptom mapping analyses. Our results revealed the WM structural networks that support the use and conceptual understanding of tools, providing evidence for the anatomical skeleton of the tool knowledge network.

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Leshinskaya, A., & Caramazza, A. (2015). Abstract categories of functions in anterior parietal lobe. Neuropsychologia , 27, 27-40.Abstract

Knowledge of function is critical for selecting objects to meet action goals, even when the affordances of those objects are not mechanical—for instance, both a painting and a vase can decorate a room. To identify neural representations of such abstract function concepts, we asked participants in an fMRI scanner to view a variety of objects and evaluate their utility to each of four goals (two Decoration goals: dress up for a night out and decorate a house, and two Protection goals: protect your body from the cold and keep objects dry in a flooded basement). These task conditions differed in the kind of functional evaluation participants had to perform over objects, but did not vary in the objects themselves. We performed a searchlight multivariate pattern analysis to identify cortical representations in which neural patterns were more similar for the pairs of similar-goal than dissimilar-goal task conditions (Decorate vs. Protect). We report such effects in anterior inferior parietal lobe (aIPL) close to regions typically reported for processing tool-related actions, and thought to be important for representing how they are manipulated. However, the current study design fully controlled for manipulation similarity, which predicted orthogonal relationships among the conditions. We conclude that the aIPL likely has nearby, but distinct, representations of both manipulation and function knowledge, and thereby may have a broader role in understanding how objects can be used, representing not just physical affordances but also abstract functional criteria such as esthetic value or purpose categories such as decorate. This pattern of localization has implications for how semantic knowledge is organized in the brain.

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Wang, X., Peelen, M. V., Han, Z., He, C., Caramazza, A., & Bi, Y. (2015). How Visual Is the Visual Cortex? Comparing Connectional and Functional Fingerprints between Congenitally Blind and Sighted Individuals. The Journal of Neuroscience , 35 (36), 12545-12559.Abstract

Classical animal visual deprivation studies and human neuroimaging studies have shown that visual experience plays a critical role in shaping the functionality and connectivity of the visual cortex. Interestingly, recent studies have additionally reported circumscribed regions in the visual cortex in which functional selectivity was remarkably similar in individuals with and without visual experience. Here, by directly comparing resting-state and task-based fMRI data in congenitally blind and sighted human subjects, we obtained large-scale continuous maps of the degree to which connectional and functional “fingerprints” of ventral visual cortex depend on visual experience. We found a close agreement between connectional and functional maps, pointing to a strong interdependence of connectivity and function. Visual experience (or the absence thereof) had a pronounced effect on the resting-state connectivity and functional response profile of occipital cortex and the posterior lateral fusiform gyrus. By contrast, connectional and functional fingerprints in the anterior medial and posterior lateral parts of the ventral visual cortex were statistically indistinguishable between blind and sighted individuals. These results provide a large-scale mapping of the influence of visual experience on the development of both functional and connectivity properties of visual cortex, which serves as a basis for the formulation of new hypotheses regarding the functionality and plasticity of specific subregions.

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Vannuscorps, G., & Caramazza, A. (2015). Typical biomechanical bias in the perception of congenitally absent hands. Cortex , 67, 147-150. Full Text
Striem-Amit, E., Ovadia-Caro, S., Caramazza, A., Margulies, D. S., Villringer, A., & Amedi, A. (2015). Functional connectivity of visual cortex in the blind follows retinotopic organization principles. Brain , 138, 1679-1695.Abstract

Is visual input during critical periods of development crucial for the emergence of the fundamental topographical mapping of the visual cortex? And would this structure be retained throughout life-long blindness or would it fade as a result of plastic, use-based reorganization? We used functional connectivity magnetic resonance imaging based on intrinsic blood oxygen level-dependent fluctuations to investigate whether significant traces of topographical mapping of the visual scene in the form of retinotopic organization, could be found in congenitally blind adults. A group of 11 fully and congenitally blind subjects and 18 sighted controls were studied. The blind demonstrated an intact functional connectivity network structural organization of the three main retinotopic mapping axes: eccentricity (centre-periphery), laterality (left-right), and elevation (upper-lower) throughout the retino- topic cortex extending to high-level ventral and dorsal streams, including characteristic eccentricity biases in face- and house- selective areas. Functional connectivity-based topographic organization in the visual cortex was indistinguishable from the normally sighted retinotopic functional connectivity structure as indicated by clustering analysis, and was found even in participants who did not have a typical retinal development in utero (microphthalmics). While the internal structural organization of the visual cortex was strikingly similar, the blind exhibited profound differences in functional connectivity to other (non-visual) brain regions as compared to the sighted, which were specific to portions of V1. Central V1 was more connected to language areas but peripheral V1 to spatial attention and control networks. These findings suggest that current accounts of critical periods and experience- dependent development should be revisited even for primary sensory areas, in that the connectivity basis for visual cortex large- scale topographical organization can develop without any visual experience and be retained through life-long experience-dependent plasticity. Furthermore, retinotopic divisions of labour, such as that between the visual cortex regions normally representing the fovea and periphery, also form the basis for topographically-unique plastic changes in the blind. 

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Lingnau, A., Strnad, L., He, C., Fabbri, S., Han, Z., Bi, Y., & Caramazza, A. (2014). Cross-Modal Plasticity Preserves Functional Specialization in Posterior Parietal Cortex. Cerebral Cortex , 24, 541-549.Abstract

In congenitally blind individuals, many regions of the brain that are typically heavily involved in visual processing are recruited for a variety of nonvisual sensory and cognitive tasks (Rauschecker 1995; Pascual-Leone et al. 2005). This phenomenoncross-modal plasticityhas been widely documented, but the principles that de- termine where and how cross-modal changes occur remain poorly understood (Bavelier and Neville 2002). Here, we evaluate the hypothesis that cross-modal plasticity respects the type of compu- tations performed by a region, even as it changes the modality of the inputs over which they are carried out (Pascual-Leone and Hamilton 2001). We compared the fMRI signal in sighted and con- genitally blind participants during proprioceptively guided reaching. We show that parietooccipital reach-related regions retain their functional roleencoding of the spatial position of the reach target even as the dominant modality in this region changes from visual to nonvisual inputs. This suggests that the computational role of a region, independently of the processing modality, codetermines its potential cross-modal recruitment. Our findings demonstrate that preservation of functional properties can serve as a guiding prin- ciple for cross-modal plasticity even in visuomotor cortical regions, i.e. beyond the early visual cortex and other traditional visual areas.

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Almeida, J., Mahon, B. Z., Zapater-Raberov, V., Dziuba, A., Cabaco, T., Marques, J. F., & Caramazza, A. (2014). Grasping with the eyes: The role of elongation in visual recognition of manipulable objects. Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience , 14 (1), 319-335.Abstract

Processing within the dorsal visual stream subserves object-directed action, whereas visual object recognition is mediated by the ventral visual stream. Recent findings suggest that the computations performed by the dorsal stream can nevertheless influence object recognition. Little is known, however, about the type of dorsal stream information that is available to assist in object recognition. Here, we present a series of experiments that explored different psychophysical manipulations known to bias the processing of a stimulus toward the dorsal visual stream in order to isolate its contribution to object recognition. We show that elongated-shaped stimuli, regardless of their semantic category and familiarity, when processed by the dorsal stream, elicit visuomotor grasp-related information that affects how we categorize manipulable objects. Elongated stimuli may reduce ambiguity during grasp preparation by providing a coarse cue to hand shaping and orientation that is sufficient to support action planning. We propose that this dorsal-stream-based analysis of elongation along a principal axis is the basis for how the dorsal visual object processing stream can affect categorization of manipulable objects.

Anzellotti, S., & Caramazza, A. (2014). Individuating the neural bases for the recognition of conspecifics with MVPA. NeuroImage , 89, 165-170.Abstract

Conspecifics are potential mates, and can be the most dangerous threats. With conspecifics we engage in complex social interactions. Therefore, it is important to rapidly detect the presence of conspecifics in a scene. Images of humans attract attention, and do so already in 9-months-old infants, showing that the distinction between conspecifics and other animals emerges early in development. However, despite a wealth of evidence on the behavioral differences between the processing of conspecifics and other animals, the neural mechanisms that underlie the recognition of conspecifics remain unknown. In this experiment, we used recursive feature elimination to individuate brain regions that show selective effects for the faces of conspecifics, individuating reliable conspecific effects in the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (vlPFC). Consistent with the importance of conspecifics recognition for reorienting attention and for social cognition, this region shows functional connectivity with the temporo-parietal junction (TPJ), implicated in reorienting attention and in the attribution of mental states to others. Our results suggest that the right vlPFC plays an important role for the recognition of conspecifics and may function as a gateway for the attribution of mental states to an object.

Anzellotti, S., & Caramazza, A. (2014). The neural mechanisms for the recognition of face identity in humans. Frontiers in Psychology , 5 672.Abstract

Every day we encounter dozens of people, and in order to interact with them appropriately we need to recognize their identity. The face is a crucial source of information to recognize a person’s identity. However, recognizing the identity of a face is challenging because it requires distinguishing between very similar images (e.g., the front views of two different faces) while categorizing very different images (e.g., a front view and a profile) as the same person. Neuroimaging has the whole-brain coverage needed to investigate where representations of face identity are encoded, but it is limited in terms of spatial and temporal resolution. In this article, we review recent neuroimaging research that attempted to investigate the representation of face identity, the challenges it faces, and the proposed solutions, to conclude that given the current state of the evidence the right anterior temporal lobe is the most promising candidate region for the representation of face identity. 

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