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A fundamental but unanswered question about the human visual system concerns the way in which misoriented objects are recognized. One hypothesis maintains that representations of incoming stimuli are transformed via parietally based spatial normalization mechanisms (eg mental rotation) to match view-specific representations in long-term memory. Using fMRI, we tested this hypothesis by directly comparing patterns of brain activity evoked during classic mental rotation and misoriented object recognition involving everyday objects. BOLD activity increased systematically with stimulus rotation within the ventral visual stream during object recognition and within the dorsal visual stream during mental rotation. More specifically, viewpoint-dependent activity was significantly greater in the right superior parietal lobule during mental rotation than during object recognition. In contrast, viewpoint-dependent activity was significantly greater in the right fusiform gyrus during object recognition than during mental rotation. In addition to these differences in viewpoint-dependent activity, object recognition and mental rotation produced distinct patterns of brain activity, independent of stimulus rotation: object recognition resulted in greater overall activity within ventral stream visual areas and mental rotation resulted in greater overall activity within dorsal stream visual areas. The present results are inconsistent with the hypothesis that misoriented object recognition is mediated by structures within the parietal lobe that are known to be involved in mental rotation.

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