The role of occipitotemporal body-selective regions in person perception

Cogn Neurosci. 2011 Sep-Dec;2(3-4):186-203. doi: 10.1080/17588928.2011.582945. Epub 2011 Aug 1.


The visual appearance of others' bodies is a powerful source of information about the people around us. This information is implicit in the stimulus and must be extracted and made explicit by the coordination of activity in multiple cortical areas. Here we consider the contribution to this process of two strongly body-selective occipitotemporal regions identified in human neuroimaging experiments: the extrastriate body area (EBA) and the fusiform body area (FBA). We address the evidence and arguments behind numerous recent proposals that EBA and FBA build explicit representations of identity, emotion, body movements, or goal-directed actions from the visual appearance of bodies, and also explore the contribution of these regions to motor control. We argue that the current evidence does not support a model in which EBA and FBA directly perform any of these higher-level functions. Instead, we argue that these regions comprise populations of neurons that encode fine details of the shape and posture of the bodies of people in the current percept. In doing so, they provide a powerful but cognitively unelaborated perceptual framework that allows other cortical systems to exploit the rich, socially relevant information that is conveyed by the body.