Contributions of feature shapes and surface cues to the recognition and neural representation of facial identity

Timothy J. Andrews*, Heidi Baseler, Rob Jenkins, A. Mike Burton, Andrew W. Young

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

33 Citations (Scopus)
39 Downloads (Pure)


A full understanding of face recognition will involve identifying the visual information that is used to discriminate different identities and how this is represented in the brain. The aim of this study was to explore the importance of shape and surface properties in the recognition and neural representation of familiar faces. We used image morphing techniques to generate hybrid faces that mixed shape properties (more specifically, second order spatial configural information as defined by feature positions in the 2D-image) from one identity and surface properties from a different identity. Behavioural responses showed that recognition and matching of these hybrid faces was primarily based on their surface properties. These behavioural findings contrasted with neural responses recorded using a block design fMRI adaptation paradigm to test the sensitivity of Haxby et al.'s (2000) core face-selective regions in the human brain to the shape or surface properties of the face. The fusiform face area (FFA) and occipital face area (OFA) showed a lower response (adaptation) to repeated images of the same face (same shape, same surface) compared to different faces (different shapes, different surfaces). From the behavioural data indicating the critical contribution of surface properties to the recognition of identity, we predicted that brain regions responsible for familiar face recognition should continue to adapt to faces that vary in shape but not surface properties, but show a release from adaptation to faces that vary in surface properties but not shape. However, we found that the FFA and OFA showed an equivalent release from adaptation to changes in both shape and surface properties. The dissociation between the neural and perceptual responses suggests that, although they may play a role in the process, these core face regions are not solely responsible for the recognition of facial identity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)280-291
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2016
Externally publishedYes


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