Contrast versus identity encoding in the face image follow distinct orientation selectivity profiles

PLoS One. 2020 Mar 18;15(3):e0229185. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0229185. eCollection 2020.


Orientation selectivity is a fundamental property of primary visual encoding. High-level processing stages also show some form of orientation dependence, with face identification preferentially relying on horizontally-oriented information. How high-level orientation tuning emerges from primary orientation biases is unclear. In the same group of participants, we derived the orientation selectivity profile at primary and high-level visual processing stages using a contrast detection and an identity matching task. To capture the orientation selectivity profile, we calculated the difference in performance between all tested orientations (0, 45, 90, and 135°) for each task and for upright and inverted faces, separately. Primary orientation selectivity was characterized by higher sensitivity to oblique as compared to cardinal orientations. The orientation profile of face identification showed superior horizontal sensitivity to face identity. In each task, performance with upright and inverted faces projected onto qualitatively similar a priori models of orientation selectivity. Yet the fact that the orientation selectivity profiles of contrast detection in upright and inverted faces correlated significantly while such correlation was absent for identification indicates a progressive dissociation of orientation selectivity profiles from primary to high-level stages of orientation encoding. Bayesian analyses further indicate a lack of correlation between the orientation selectivity profiles in the contrast detection and face identification tasks, for upright and inverted faces. From these findings, we conclude that orientation selectivity shows distinct profiles at primary and high-level stages of face processing and that a transformation must occur from general cardinal attenuation when processing basic properties of the face image to horizontal tuning when encoding more complex properties such as identity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Face*
  • Female
  • Fixation, Ocular / physiology
  • Humans
  • Light
  • Male
  • Orientation, Spatial / physiology*
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Visual Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult

Grant support

C.J. is a postdoctoral fellow at the Fonds National de la Recherche Scientifique de Belgique(F.R.S-F.N.R.S.).K.P. is an F.R.S-F.N.R.S. PhD student; V.G. is an F.R.S-F.N.R.S. Research Associate. The project was funded by the F.R.S-F.N.R.S. Crédit de Recherche awarded to C.J. (CR CHRISTIANNEJACOBS-28099002), and Excellence of Science grant awarded to V.G. (HUMVISCAT-30991544). P.M. is an FWO postdoctoral fellow (grant nr. 12X8218N) The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.