Hierarchical Encoding of Social Cues in Primate Inferior Temporal Cortex.
Morin EL., Hadj-Bouziane F., Stokes M., Ungerleider LG., Bell AH.
Faces convey information about identity and emotional state, both of which are important for our social interactions. Models of face processing propose that changeable versus invariant aspects of a face, specifically facial expression/gaze direction versus facial identity, are coded by distinct neural pathways and yet neurophysiological data supporting this separation are incomplete. We recorded activity from neurons along the inferior bank of the superior temporal sulcus (STS), while monkeys viewed images of conspecific faces and non-face control stimuli. Eight monkey identities were used, each presented with 3 different facial expressions (neutral, fear grin, and threat). All facial expressions were displayed with both a direct and averted gaze. In the posterior STS, we found that about one-quarter of face-responsive neurons are sensitive to social cues, the majority of which being sensitive to only one of these cues. In contrast, in anterior STS, not only did the proportion of neurons sensitive to social cues increase, but so too did the proportion of neurons sensitive to conjunctions of identity with either gaze direction or expression. These data support a convergence of signals related to faces as one moves anteriorly along the inferior bank of the STS, which forms a fundamental part of the face-processing network.