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Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America


Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences


Studies using functional neuroimaging and patient populations have demonstrated that distinct brain regions subserve semantic knowledge for different classes of inanimate objects (e.g., tools, musical instruments, and houses). What this work has yet to consider, however, is how conceptual knowledge about people may be organized in the brain. In particular, is there a distinct functional neuroanatomy associated with person knowledge? By using event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we measured neural activity while participants made semantic judgments about people or objects. A unique pattern of brain activity was associated with person judgments and included brain regions previously implicated in other aspects of social-cognitive functioning: medial prefrontal cortex, superior temporal cortex, intraparietal sulcus, and fusiform gyrus. These regions were generally marked by relatively little change from baseline brain activity for person judgments along with significant deactivations for object judgments. Together, these findings support the notion that person knowledge may be functionally dissociable from other classes of semantic knowledge within the brain.