Extensive individual differences of category information in ventral temporal cortex in the congenitally blind
Human ventral temporal cortex (VTC) is a cortical expanse that performs different functions and computations, but is especially critical for visual categorization. Nevertheless, accumulating evidence shows that category-selective regions persist in VTC in the absence of visual experience - for example, in congenitally blind (CB) participants. Despite this evidence, a large body of previous work comparing functional representations in VTC between sighted and CB participants performed univariate
... rformed univariate analyses at the group level, which assume a homogeneous population - an assumption that has not been formally tested until the present study. Specifically, using fMRI in CB and sighted participants (male and female), we empirically show that at the group level, distributed category representations in VTC are more reliable in the sighted (when viewing visual stimuli) compared to the CB (when hearing auditorily-substituted visual stimuli). Despite these group differences, there is extensive heterogeneity in VTC category representations in the CB to the point that VTC category representations in a subset of CB participants (some who were born without eyes, but not all) are more similar to sighted individuals compared to other CB participants. Together, our findings support a novel idea that driving factors contributing to the formation of VTC category representations in the blind are subject-specific, which complements factors that may generalize across group members. More broadly, the present findings caution conclusions of homogeneity across subjects within a group when performing group neuroimaging analyses without explicitly quantifying individual differences.