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Brain regions involved in processing facial identity and expression are differentially selective for surface and edge information

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Publication details

DatePublished - 15 Aug 2014
Number of pages7
Pages (from-to)217-223
Original languageEnglish


Although different brain regions are widely considered to be involved in the recognition of facial identity and expression, it remains unclear how these regions process different properties of the visual image. Here, we ask how surface-based reflectance information and edge-based shape cues contribute to the perception and neural representation of facial identity and expression. Contrast-reversal was used to generate images in which normal contrast relationships across the surface of the image were disrupted, but edge information was preserved. In a behavioural experiment, contrast-reversal significantly attenuated judgements of facial identity, but only had a marginal effect on judgements of expression. An fMR-adaptation paradigm was then used to ask how brain regions involved in the processing of identity and expression responded to blocks comprising all normal, all contrast-reversed, or a mixture of normal and contrast-reversed faces. Adaptation in the posterior superior temporal sulcus - a region directly linked with processing facial expression - was relatively unaffected by mixing normal with contrast-reversed faces. In contrast, the response of the fusiform face area - a region linked with processing facial identity - was significantly affected by contrast-reversal. These results offer a new perspective on the reasons underlying the neural segregation of facial identity and expression in which brain regions involved in processing invariant aspects of faces, such as identity, are very sensitive to surface-based cues, whereas regions involved in processing changes in faces, such as expression, are relatively dependent on edge-based cues.

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2014. Published by Elsevier Inc.

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