Differences in the neural processing of six categories of pictorial stimuli (maps, body parts, objects, animals, famous faces and colours) were investigated using positron emission tomography. Stimuli were presented either with or without the written name of the picture, thereby creating a naming condition and a reading condition. As predicted, naming increased the demands on lexical processes. This was demonstrated by activation of the left temporal lobe in a posterior region associated with name retrieval in several previous studies. This lexical effect was common to all meaningful stimuli and no categoryspecific effects were observed for naming relative to reading. Nevertheless, category differences were found when naming and reading were considered together. Stimuli with greater visual complexity (animals, faces and maps) enhanced activation in the left extrastriate cortex. Furthermore, map recognition, which requires greater spatio–topographical processing, also activated the right occipito–parietal and parahippocampal cortices. These effects in the visuo–patial regions emphasize inevitable differences in the perceptual properties of pictorial stimuli. In the semantic temporal regions, famous faces and objects enhanced activation in the left antero–lateral and postero–lateral cortices, respectively. In addition, we showed that the same posterior left temporal region is also activated by body parts. We conclude that category–specific brain activations depend more on differential processing at the perceptual and semantic levels rather than at the lexical retrieval level.