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The Thatcher illusion reveals orientation dependence in brain regions involved in processing facial expressions

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Publication details

JournalPsychological Science
DateE-pub ahead of print - 21 Nov 2013
DatePublished (current) - Jan 2014
Issue number1
Number of pages9
Pages (from-to)128-136
Early online date21/11/13
Original languageEnglish


Although the processing of facial identity is known to be sensitive to the orientation of the face, it is less clear whether orientation sensitivity extends to the processing of facial expressions. To address this issue, we used functional MRI (fMRI) to measure the neural response to the Thatcher illusion. This illusion involves a local inversion of the eyes and mouth in a smiling face-when the face is upright, the inverted features make it appear grotesque, but when the face is inverted, the inversion is no longer apparent. Using an fMRI-adaptation paradigm, we found a release from adaptation in the superior temporal sulcus-a region directly linked to the processing of facial expressions-when the images were upright and they changed from a normal to a Thatcherized configuration. However, this release from adaptation was not evident when the faces were inverted. These results show that regions involved in processing facial expressions display a pronounced orientation sensitivity.

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© 2013, The Author(s). This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy. Further copying may not be permitted; contact the publisher for details.

    Research areas

  • Face perception, Facial expressions, Neuroimaging, Facial features, Cognitive neuroscience

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