Fusiform Face Area in Chess Expertise

Abstract

The ability to recognize faces is arguably one of the most important and most practiced skills. The possible functions of the fusiform face area (FFA), generally believed to be responsible for face recognition, also feature these two characteristics. On the one hand, there are claims that the FFA has evolved into a face specific module due to great importance of face processing. On the other, the FFA is seen as a general visual expertise module that distinguishes between individual examples within a single category. The previous studies used experts and novices on stimuli such as cars, birds or butterflies with ambiguous results. Here this research stream is extended to the game of chess, which does not share visible features with faces. The first study shows that chess expertise modulates the FFA activation when complex multi-object chess positions were presented. In contrast, isolated single chess objects did not produce different activation patterns among experts and novices. The second study confirmed that even a couple of isolated objects do not differently engage the FFA among experts and novices. The two studies provide support for the general expertise view of the FFA function, but also extend the scope of our understanding about the function of the FFA. The FFA does not merely distinguish between different exemplars. It also seems to engage into parsing complex multi-object stimuli that contain numerous functional and spatial relations.


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