Structural similarity and category-specificity: a refined account

Christian Gerlach, Ian Law, Olaf B Paulson

30 Citations (Scopus)


It has been suggested that category-specific recognition disorders for natural objects may reflect that natural objects are more structurally (visually) similar than artefacts and therefore more difficult to recognize following brain damage. On this account one might expect a positive relationship between blood flow and structural similarity in areas involved in visual object recognition. Contrary to this expectation we report a negative relationship in that identification of articles of clothing cause more extensive activation than identification of vegetables/fruit and animals even though items from the categories of animals and vegetables/fruit are rated as more structurally similar than items from the category of articles of clothing. Given that this pattern cannot be explained in terms of a tradeoff between activation and accuracy, we interpret these findings within a model where the matching of visual forms to memory incorporates two operations: (i) the integration of stored object features into whole object representations (integral units), and (ii) the competition between activated integral units for selection (i.e. identification). In addition, we suggest that these operations are differentially affected by structural similarity in that high structural similarity may be beneficial for the integration of stored features into integral units, thus explaining the greater activation found with articles of clothing, whereas it may be harmful for the selection process proper because a greater range of candidate integral units will be activated and compete for selection, thus explaining the higher error rate associated with animals. We evaluate the model based on previous evidence from both normal subjects and patients with category-specific disorders and argue that this model can help reconcile otherwise conflicting data.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number11
Pages (from-to)1543-53
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 2004


  • Adult
  • Association Learning/physiology
  • Attention/physiology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebral Cortex/physiology
  • Concept Formation/physiology
  • Decision Making/physiology
  • Discrimination Learning/physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual/physiology
  • Reaction Time/physiology
  • Reference Values
  • Regional Blood Flow/physiology
  • Software
  • Temporal Lobe/physiology
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed


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