A Flexible Neural Representation of Faces in the Human Brain

Cereb Cortex Commun. 2020 Aug 28;1(1):tgaa055. doi: 10.1093/texcom/tgaa055. eCollection 2020.


An important question in human face perception research is to understand whether the neural representation of faces is dynamically modulated by context. In particular, although there is a plethora of neuroimaging literature that has probed the neural representation of faces, few studies have investigated what low-level structural and textural facial features parametrically drive neural responses to faces and whether the representation of these features is modulated by the task. To answer these questions, we employed 2 task instructions when participants viewed the same faces. We first identified brain regions that parametrically encoded high-level social traits such as perceived facial trustworthiness and dominance, and we showed that these brain regions were modulated by task instructions. We then employed a data-driven computational face model with parametrically generated faces and identified brain regions that encoded low-level variation in the faces (shape and skin texture) that drove neural responses. We further analyzed the evolution of the neural feature vectors along the visual processing stream and visualized and explained these feature vectors. Together, our results showed a flexible neural representation of faces for both low-level features and high-level social traits in the human brain.

Keywords: dominance; face; face model; task modulation; trustworthiness.