Norm-based face encoding by single neurons in the monkey inferotemporal cortex

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The rich and immediate perception of a familiar face, including its identity, expression and even intent, is one of the most impressive shared faculties of human and non-human primate brains. Many visually responsive neurons in the inferotemporal cortex of macaque monkeys respond selectively to faces1-4, sometimes to only one or a few individuals5-7, while showing little sensitivity to scale and other details of the retinal image8,9. Here we show that face-responsive neurons in the macaque monkey anterior inferotemporal cortex are tuned to a fundamental dimension of face perception. Using a norm-based caricaturization framework previously developed for human psychophysics10-12, we varied the identity information present in photo-realistic human faces13, and found that neurons of the anterior inferotemporal cortex were most often tuned around the average, identity-ambiguous face. These observations are consistent with face-selective responses in this area being shaped by a figural comparison, reflecting structural differences between an incoming face and an internal reference or norm. As such, these findings link the tuning of neurons in the inferotemporal cortex to psychological models of face identity perception.

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