We used a multi-voxel classification analysis of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data to determine to what extent item-specific information about complex natural scenes is represented in several category-selective areas of human extrastriate visual cortex during visual perception and visual mental imagery. Participants in the scanner either viewed or were instructed to visualize previously memorized natural scene exemplars, and the neuroimaging data were subsequently subjected to a multi-voxel pattern analysis (MVPA) using a support vector machine (SVM) classifier. We found that item-specific information was represented in multiple scene-selective areas: the occipital place area (OPA), parahippocampal place area (PPA), retrosplenial cortex (RSC), and a scene-selective portion of the precuneus/intraparietal sulcus region (PCu/IPS). Furthermore, item-specific information from perceived scenes was re-instantiated during mental imagery of the same scenes. These results support findings from previous decoding analyses for other types of visual information and/or brain areas during imagery or working memory, and extend them to the case of visual scenes (and scene-selective cortex). Taken together, such findings support models suggesting that reflective mental processes are subserved by the re-instantiation of perceptual information in high-level visual cortex. We also examined activity in the fusiform face area (FFA) and found that it, too, contained significant item-specific scene information during perception, but not during mental imagery. This suggests that although decodable scene-relevant activity occurs in FFA during perception, FFA activity may not be a necessary (or even relevant) component of one's mental representation of visual scenes.
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