The nature of face representations in subcortical regions

Shai Gabay, Charles Burlingham, Marlene Behrmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Studies examining the neural correlates of face perception in humans have focused almost exclusively on the distributed cortical network of face-selective regions. Recently, however, investigations have also identified subcortical correlates of face perception and the question addressed here concerns the nature of these subcortical face representations. To explore this issue, we presented to participants pairs of images sequentially to the same or to different eyes. Superior performance in the former over latter condition implicates monocular, prestriate portions of the visual system. Over a series of five experiments, we manipulated both lower-level (size, location) as well as higher-level (identity) similarity across the pair of faces. A monocular advantage was observed even when the faces in a pair differed in location and in size, implicating some subcortical invariance across lower-level image properties. A monocular advantage was also observed when the faces in a pair were two different images of the same individual, indicating the engagement of subcortical representations in more abstract, higher-level aspects of face processing. We conclude that subcortical structures of the visual system are involved, perhaps interactively, in multiple aspects of face perception, and not simply in deriving initial coarse representations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-46
Number of pages12
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2014
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
SG is currently at the department of psychology, University of Haifa, Israel. This work was supported by grant to MB from the NSF Science of Learning Center ( SBE-0542013 to the Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center ; PI: G. Cottrell) and a fellowship grant to CB from the Undergraduate Research Office at Carnegie Mellon University (SURF) .


  • Face perception
  • Monocular presentation
  • Subcortical structures

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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