Face processing in humans is compatible with a simple shape-based model of vision

Unknown author (2004-03-05)

Understanding how the human visual system recognizes objects is one of the key challenges in neuroscience. Inspired by a large body of physiological evidence (Felleman and Van Essen, 1991; Hubel and Wiesel, 1962; Livingstone and Hubel, 1988; Tso et al., 2001; Zeki, 1993), a general class of recognition models has emerged which is based on a hierarchical organization of visual processing, with succeeding stages being sensitive to image features of increasing complexity (Hummel and Biederman, 1992; Riesenhuber and Poggio, 1999; Selfridge, 1959). However, these models appear to be incompatible with some well-known psychophysical results. Prominent among these are experiments investigating recognition impairments caused by vertical inversion of images, especially those of faces. It has been reported that faces that differ  featurally are much easier to distinguish when inverted than those that differ  configurally (Freire et al., 2000; Le Grand et al., 2001; Mondloch et al., 2002)  a finding that is difficult to reconcile with the aforementioned models. Here we show that after controlling for subjects expectations, there is no difference between  featurally and  configurally transformed faces in terms of inversion effect. This result reinforces the plausibility of simple hierarchical models of object representation and recognition in cortex.