Conceptual size representation in ventral visual cortex

Shai Gabay*, Eyal Kalanthroff, Avishai Henik, Nurit Gronau

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Recent findings suggest that visual objects may be mapped along the ventral occipitotemporal cortex according to their real-world size ( Konkle and Oliva, 2012). It has been argued that such mapping does not reflect an abstract, conceptual size representation, but rather the visual or functional properties associated with small versus big real-world objects. To determine whether a more abstract conceptual size representation may affect visual cortical activation we used meaningless geometrical shapes, devoid of semantic or functional associations, which were associated with specific size representations by virtue of extensive training. Following training, participants underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanning while performing a conceptual size comparison task on the geometrical shapes. In addition, a size comparison task was conducted for numeral digits denoting small and big numbers. A region-of-interest analysis revealed larger blood oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) responses for conceptually 'big' than for conceptually 'small' shapes, as well as for big versus small numbers, within medial (parahippocampal place area, PPA) and lateral (occipital place area, OPA) place-selective regions. Processing of the 'big' visual shapes further elicited enhanced activation in early visual cortex, possibly reflecting top-down projections from PPA. By using arbitrary shapes and numbers we minimized visual, categorical, or functional influences on fMRI measurement, providing evidence for a possible neural mechanism underlying the representation of abstract conceptual size within the ventral visual stream.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)198-206
Number of pages9
StatePublished - 29 Jan 2016
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the European Research Council under the European Union's Seventh Framework Program ( FP7/2007-2013 )/ ERC Grant agreement no. 295644 (to AH), and by the Open University of Israel's Research Fund Grant agreement no. 47609 (to SG and NG) .

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Elsevier Ltd.


  • Conceptual size
  • Numerical processing
  • Occipital place area
  • Parahippocampal place area
  • Size-preference


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