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Neural Univariate Activity and Multivariate Pattern in the Posterior Superior Temporal Sulcus Differentially Encode Facial Expression and Identity

Yang, Z., Zhen, Z., Huang, L., Kong, X., Wang, X., Song, Y., & Liu, J. (2016). Neural Univariate Activity and Multivariate Pattern in the Posterior Superior Temporal Sulcus Differentially Encode Facial Expression and Identity. Scientific Reports, 6: 23427. doi:10.1038/srep23427.
Faces contain a variety of information such as one’s identity and expression. One prevailing model suggests a functional division of labor in processing faces that different aspects of facial information are processed in anatomically separated and functionally encapsulated brain regions. Here, we demonstrate that facial identity and expression can be processed in the same region, yet with different neural coding strategies. To this end, we employed functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine two types of coding schemes, namely univariate activity and multivariate pattern, in the posterior superior temporal cortex (pSTS) - a face-selective region that is traditionally viewed as being specialized for processing facial expression. With the individual difference approach, we found that participants with higher overall face selectivity in the right pSTS were better at differentiating facial expressions measured outside of the scanner. In contrast, individuals whose spatial pattern for faces in the right pSTS was less similar to that for objects were more accurate in identifying previously presented faces. The double dissociation of behavioral relevance between overall neural activity and spatial neural pattern suggests that the functional-division-of-labor model on face processing is over-simplified, and that coding strategies shall be incorporated in a revised model.
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The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics is an institute of the German Max Planck Society. Our mission is to undertake basic research into the psychological,social and biological foundations of language. The goal is to understand how our minds and brains process language, how language interacts with other aspects of mind, and how we can learn languages of quite different types.

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