Organization and functions of cells responsive to faces in the temporal cortex

David Ian Perrett, JK Hietanen, Michael William Oram, PJ Benson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

656 Citations (Scopus)


Cells selectively responsive to the face have been found in several visual sub-areas of temporal cortex in the macaque brain. These include the lateral and ventral surfaces of inferior temporal cortex and the upper bank, lower bank and fundus of the superior temporal sulcus (STS). Cells in the different regions may contribute in different ways to the processing of the facial image.

Within the upper bank of the STS different populations of cells are selective for different views of the face and head. These cells occur in functionally discrete patches (3-5 mm across) within the STS cortex. Studies of output connections from the STS also reveal a modular anatomical organization of repeating 3 5 mm patches connected to the parietal cortex, an area thought to be involved in spatial awareness and in the control of attention.

The properties of some cells suggest a role in the discrimination of heads from other objects, and in the recognition of familiar individuals. The selectivity for view suggests that the neural operations underlying face or head recognition rely on parallel analyses of different characteristic views of the head, the outputs of these view-specific analyses being subsequently combined to support view-independent (object-centred) recognition.

An alternative functional interpretation of the sensitivity to head view is that the cells enable an analysis of 'social attention', i.e. they signal where other individuals are directing their attention. A cell maximally responsive to the left profile thus provides a signal that the attention (of another individual) is directed to the observer's left. Such information is useful for analysing social interactions between other individuals. This interpretation accounts not only for the extensive tuning to head view in the horizontal plane, but also explains the additional tuning of many STS cells to gaze direction and vertical elevation of the head and body posture. Deficits in perception of gaze direction after lesions to the macaque STS cortex, and in certain cases of prosopagnosia, are also predicted by this interpretation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)23-30
Number of pages8
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London Series B
Issue number1273
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jan 1992




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