Holistic processing only? The role of the right fusiform face area in radiological expertise

Ellen M. Kok*, Bettina Sorger, Koos van Geel, Andreas Gegenfurtner, Jeroen J. G. van Merriënboer, Simon G. F. Robben, Anique B. H. de Bruin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Radiologists can visually detect abnormalities on radiographs within 2s, a process that resembles holistic visual processing of faces. Interestingly, there is empirical evidence using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) for the involvement of the right fusiform face area (FFA) in visual-expertise tasks such as radiological image interpretation. The speed by which stimuli (e.g., faces, abnormalities) are recognized is an important characteristic of holistic processing. However, evidence for the involvement of the right FFA in holistic processing in radiology comes mostly from short or artificial tasks in which the quick, 'holistic' mode of diagnostic processing is not contrasted with the slower 'search-to-find' mode. In our fMRI study, we hypothesized that the right FFA responds selectively to the 'holistic' mode of diagnostic processing and less so to the 'search-to-find' mode. Eleven laypeople and 17 radiologists in training diagnosed 66 radiographs in 2s each (holistic mode) and subsequently checked their diagnosis in an extended (10-s) period (search-to-find mode). During data analysis, we first identified individual regions of interest (ROIs) for the right FFA using a localizer task. Then we employed ROI-based ANOVAs and obtained tentative support for the hypothesis that the right FFA shows more activation for radiologists in training versus laypeople, in particular in the holistic mode (i.e., during 2s trials), and less so in the search-to-find mode (i.e., during 10-s trials). No significant correlation was found between diagnostic performance (diagnostic accuracy) and brain-activation level within the right FFA for both, short-presentation and long-presentation diagnostic trials. Our results provide tentative evidence from a diagnostic-reasoning task that the FFA supports the holistic processing of visual stimuli in participants' expertise domain.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0256849
Number of pages20
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2021



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