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Find a Face

The importance of context for making sense of visual cues

04 July 2020

Find a Face

How do you know that a face is a face? Specific regions of the primate brain are responsible for identifying categories of objects, such as faces, body parts, and inanimate things. However, we never see these items in isolation as they’re usually embedded within a more complex visual scene. To understand the role of context in this process, neuroscientists recorded neuronal activity in macaque face-selective brain regions. This image maps the areas of a visual scene that elicited the most (red) and least (blue) electrical activity in these neurons. Interestingly, face-selective neurons were active not only when monkeys saw images of faces (as shown here), but also when the context meant they expected to see a face – for example, on top of a body shape – even if the face wasn’t there. These findings illustrate how the primate brain relies on contextual cues to help make sense of the visual environment.

Written by Gaëlle Coullon

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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