Visual imagery of famous faces: effects of memory and attention revealed by fMRI

Alumit Ishai, James V Haxby, Leslie G Ungerleider
NeuroImage 2002, 17 (4): 1729-41
Complex pictorial information can be represented and retrieved from memory as mental visual images. Functional brain imaging studies have shown that visual perception and visual imagery share common neural substrates. The type of memory (short- or long-term) that mediates the generation of mental images, however, has not been addressed previously. The purpose of this study was to investigate the neural correlates underlying imagery generated from short- and long-term memory (STM and LTM). We used famous faces to localize the visual response during perception and to compare the responses during visual imagery generated from STM (subjects memorized specific pictures of celebrities before the imagery task) and imagery from LTM (subjects imagined famous faces without seeing specific pictures during the experimental session). We found that visual perception of famous faces activated the inferior occipital gyri, lateral fusiform gyri, the superior temporal sulcus, and the amygdala. Small subsets of these face-selective regions were activated during imagery. Additionally, visual imagery of famous faces activated a network of regions composed of bilateral calcarine, hippocampus, precuneus, intraparietal sulcus (IPS), and the inferior frontal gyrus (IFG). In all these regions, imagery generated from STM evoked more activation than imagery from LTM. Regardless of memory type, focusing attention on features of the imagined faces (e.g., eyes, lips, or nose) resulted in increased activation in the right IPS and right IFG. Our results suggest differential effects of memory and attention during the generation and maintenance of mental images of faces.

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