The right occipital face area (rOFA) is known to be involved in face discrimination based on local featural information. Whether this region is involved in global, holistic stimulus processing is not known.
We used fMRI-guided transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to investigate whether rOFA is causally implicated in stimulus detection based on holistic processing, by the use of Mooney stimuli.
Two studies were carried out: In Experiment 1, participants performed a detection task involving Mooney faces and Mooney objects; Mooney stimuli lack distinguishable local features and can be detected solely via holistic processing (i.e. at a global level) with top-down guidance from previously stored representations. Experiment 2 required participants to detect shapes which are recognized via bottom-up integration of local (collinear) Gabor elements and was performed to control for specificity of rightOFA's implication in holistic detection.
In Experiment 1, TMS over rOFA and rLO impaired detection of all stimulus categories, with no category-specific effect. In Experiment 2, shape detection was impaired when TMS was applied over rLO but not over rOFA.
Our results demonstrate that rOFA is causally implicated in the type of top-down holistic detection required by Mooney stimuli and that such role is not face-selective. In contrast, rOFA does not appear to play a causal role in in detection of shapes based on bottom-up integration of local components, demonstrating that its involvement in processing non-face stimuli is specific for holistic processing.