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The Code for Facial Identity in the Primate Brain

Chang, Le and Tsao, Doris Y. (2017) The Code for Facial Identity in the Primate Brain. Cell, 169 (6). pp. 1013-1028. ISSN 0092-8674. PMCID PMC8088389. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2017.05.011.

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Primates recognize complex objects such as faces with remarkable speed and reliability. Here, we reveal the brain’s code for facial identity. Experiments in macaques demonstrate an extraordinarily simple transformation between faces and responses of cells in face patches. By formatting faces as points in a high-dimensional linear space, we discovered that each face cell’s firing rate is proportional to the projection of an incoming face stimulus onto a single axis in this space, allowing a face cell ensemble to encode the location of any face in the space. Using this code, we could precisely decode faces from neural population responses and predict neural firing rates to faces. Furthermore, this code disavows the long-standing assumption that face cells encode specific facial identities, confirmed by engineering faces with drastically different appearance that elicited identical responses in single face cells. Our work suggests that other objects could be encoded by analogous metric coordinate systems.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription CentralArticle
Tsao, Doris Y.0000-0003-1083-1919
Additional Information:© 2017 Elsevier Inc. Received 16 February 2017, Revised 29 March 2017, Accepted 3 May 2017, Available online 1 June 2017. This work was supported by the NIH (1R01EY019702), the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute for Neuroscience at Caltech, and the Swartz Foundation (# 2013-36, fellowship to L.C.). We thank Nicole Schweers for technical support, members of the Tsao lab, Margaret Livingstone, and Albert Tsao for critical comments, and Rodrigo Quian Quiroga for an inspiring conversation.
Group:Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute for Neuroscience
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI)UNSPECIFIED
Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute for NeuroscienceUNSPECIFIED
Swartz Foundation2013-36
Subject Keywords:inferior temporal cortex; primate vision; face processing; decoding; electrophysiology
Issue or Number:6
PubMed Central ID:PMC8088389
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20170605-091653058
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:Le Chang, Doris Y. Tsao, The Code for Facial Identity in the Primate Brain, Cell, Volume 169, Issue 6, 1 June 2017, Pages 1013-1028.e14, ISSN 0092-8674,
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:77942
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:05 Jun 2017 21:38
Last Modified:09 Feb 2022 20:24

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