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Learning to See Friendly Faces in Different Places

Summary: Researchers report on how the brain learns to recognize an individual face, regardless of where it appears in different visual locations.

Source: SfN.

Meaningful social interactions train visual cortex neurons to recognize a familiar face in different visual locations, suggests new research published in eNeuro. The study demonstrates how the brain learns to perceive other people as individuals.

Previous research has shown that attributes of the same face can appear to be different depending on where it is presented in the visual field. For example, a face with unisex features can be seen as a male face in one place and as a female face in another. This finding led Ida Gobbini, Matteo Visconti di Oleggio Castello, and colleagues to investigate how regular interactions with the people in one’s life influence perception of such familiar faces.

The researchers asked graduate students to identify photographs of their peers presented on a screen in various locations around a fixation point.

They found participants who reported stronger familiarity with one another more consistently recognized the other individual in different parts of their visual field.

graphic abstract

Stable and idiosyncratic biases in identification in Experiment 1. A) Psychometric fit for two subjects from both sessions. Colors indicate location (see colors in bottom left corner); actual data (points) are shown only for the extreme locations to avoid visual clutter. B) The parameter estimates across sessions (at least 33 days apart) were stable (r = 0.71 [0.47, 0.84], see Table 1). Dots represent individual parameter estimates for each location, color coded according to each subject. Correlations were performed on the data shown in this panel. C) Example morphs used in the experiment. Note that the morphs depicted here are shown for illustration only, and participants saw morphs of identities that were personally familiar to them. NeuroscienceNews.com image is credited to Visconti di Oleggio Castello et al., eNeuro (2018.)

The team further simulated how repeated social interactions may tune independent populations of neurons to recognize an individual face regardless of where it appears in space.

About this neuroscience research article

Funding: Study funded by Martens Family Fund.

Source: David Barnstone – SfN
Publisher: Organized by NeuroscienceNews.com.
Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is credited to Visconti di Oleggio Castello et al., eNeuro (2018.
Original Research: Abstract for “Idiosyncratic, retinotopic bias in face identification modulated by familiarity” by Matteo Visconti di Oleggio Castello, Morgan Taylor, Patrick Cavanagh and M. Ida Gobbini in eNeuro. Published October 1 2018.
doi:10.1523/ENEURO.0054-18.2018

Cite This NeuroscienceNews.com Article
SfN”Learning to See Friendly Faces in Different Places.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 1 October 2018.
<http://neurosciencenews.com/friendly-faces-places-9942/>.
SfN(2018, October 1). Learning to See Friendly Faces in Different Places. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved October 1, 2018 from http://neurosciencenews.com/friendly-faces-places-9942/
SfN”Learning to See Friendly Faces in Different Places.” http://neurosciencenews.com/friendly-faces-places-9942/ (accessed October 1, 2018).

Abstract

Idiosyncratic, retinotopic bias in face identification modulated by familiarity

The perception of gender and age of unfamiliar faces is reported to vary idiosyncratically across retinal locations such that, for example, the same androgynous face may appear to be male at one location but female at another. Here we test spatial heterogeneity for the recognition of the identity of personally familiar faces in human participants. We found idiosyncratic biases that were stable within participants and that varied more across locations for low as compared to high familiar faces. These data suggest that like face gender and age, face identity is processed, in part, by independent populations of neurons monitoring restricted spatial regions and that the recognition responses vary for the same face across these different locations. Moreover, repeated and varied social interactions appear to lead to adjustments of these independent face recognition neurons so that the same familiar face is eventually more likely to elicit the same recognition response across widely separated visual field locations. We provide a mechanistic account of this reduced retinotopic bias based on computational simulations.

Significance statement
In this work we tested spatial heterogeneity for the recognition of personally familiar faces. We found retinotopic biases that varied more across locations for low as compared to highly familiar faces. The retinotopic biases were idiosyncratic and stable within participants. Our data suggest that, like face gender and age, face identity is processed by independent populations of neurons monitoring restricted spatial regions and that recognition may vary for the same face at these different locations. Unlike previous findings, our data and computational simulation address the effects of learning and show how increased familiarity modifies the representation of face identity in face-responsive cortical areas. This new perspective has broader implications for understanding how learning optimizes visual processes for socially salient stimuli.

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