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Real-world expertise provides a valuable opportunity to understand how experience shapes human behavior and neural function. In the visual domain, the study of expert object recognition, such as in car enthusiasts or bird watchers, has produced a large, growing, and often-controversial literature. Here, we synthesize this literature, focusing primarily on results from functional brain imaging, and propose an interactive framework that incorporates the impact of high-level factors, such as attention and conceptual knowledge, in supporting expertise. This framework contrasts with the perceptual view of object expertise that has concentrated largely on stimulus-driven processing in visual cortex. One prominent version of this perceptual account has almost exclusively focused on the relation of expertise to face processing and, in terms of the neural substrates, has centered on face-selective cortical regions such as the Fusiform Face Area (FFA). We discuss the limitations of this face-centric approach as well as the more general perceptual view, and highlight that expert related activity is: (i) found throughout visual cortex, not just FFA, with a strong relationship between neural response and behavioral expertise even in the earliest stages of visual processing, (ii) found outside visual cortex in areas such as parietal and prefrontal cortices, and (iii) modulated by the attentional engagement of the observer suggesting that it is neither automatic nor driven solely by stimulus properties. These findings strongly support a framework in which object expertise emerges from extensive interactions within and between the visual system and other cognitive systems, resulting in widespread, distributed patterns of expertise-related activity across the entire cortex.


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