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Content archived on 2024-05-29

Functional contributions of the dorsal stream to human face recognition


Humans are constantly required by their species-typical environment to learn new faces for social interactions. One of unanswered issues in face learning is the role of active perception. Research to date has mainly relied on methods where observers are relatively passive viewers of face stimuli.

This bears rather limited resemblance to face perception in the natural environment. Perception of a real face is an interactive process in the sense that the relative motion of the face and its observer determines the resulting viewpoint of the face. The observer may from time to time actively engage in this interaction to deliberately register certain desired facial features.

A recent study by Liuetal. (submitted) has shown that such exploratory behaviour can help to achieve more robust memory of faces. The principal objective of this project is to examine the neural substrates of this behavioural advantage.

The aim is to test the hypothesis that the dorsal stream of the human brain is more strongly involved in a n active condition where observers are allowed to explore the views of a face with a joystick than a passive condition where observers simply watch a replay of the same sequence of face stimuli generated by the active observers. Unlike the ventral stream, the role of the dorsal stream in face perception is not well known.

We will use event-related brain potentials (ERPs) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to record neural activities of the dorsal stream during face learning. We predict that relative to the passive condition, the active condition will elicit stronger responses in regions associated with the dorsal stream.

We will employ both recognition memory and face matching tasks to distinguish the role of active exploration involved in memory and perceptual identification of faces. Apart from face stimuli, we will also use object (chair) stimuli to determine whether the neural substrates involved in active exploration are face specific.

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