Emergence of Emotion Selectivity in Deep Neural Networks Trained to Recognize Visual Objects

PLoS Comput Biol. 2024 Mar 28;20(3):e1011943. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1011943. eCollection 2024 Mar.


Recent neuroimaging studies have shown that the visual cortex plays an important role in representing the affective significance of visual input. The origin of these affect-specific visual representations is debated: they are intrinsic to the visual system versus they arise through reentry from frontal emotion processing structures such as the amygdala. We examined this problem by combining convolutional neural network (CNN) models of the human ventral visual cortex pre-trained on ImageNet with two datasets of affective images. Our results show that in all layers of the CNN models, there were artificial neurons that responded consistently and selectively to neutral, pleasant, or unpleasant images and lesioning these neurons by setting their output to zero or enhancing these neurons by increasing their gain led to decreased or increased emotion recognition performance respectively. These results support the idea that the visual system may have the intrinsic ability to represent the affective significance of visual input and suggest that CNNs offer a fruitful platform for testing neuroscientific theories.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Neural Networks, Computer*
  • Neuroimaging
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Recognition, Psychology
  • Visual Cortex* / physiology