The role of occipital temporal cortex in the formation of face familiarity and identity

The recognition of faces holds a special role in human cognition, which reflects in multiple involved regions in the occipito-temporal cortex (OTC). One region is the Occipital Face Area (OFA), previously described as a low-level, structural encoding area. This work investigates whether the OFA plays a more complex role in face processing with a focus on the familiarity status of a face and their identity representation. For this purpose, four studies were implemented to answer if the OFA is participating in low- as well as high-level face representations and what the temporal dynamics of electrophysiological responses to familiarity and identity learning are. Further, we evaluated if the different processing of familiar and unfamiliar faces can be detected and are modulated by the OFA. In Study I we demonstrated, that Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) over the rOFA impairs encoding of trained face images. This indicates that this region is involved in the encoding of image-specific face representations. Study II lead to the conclusion, that TMS of the OFA reduces accuracy in retrieving face-associated job titles. This suggests that this region is not limited to visual information. Study III revealed, that the quality of familiarization impacts neural representations as they were visible after personal-, weaker after media-, and absent after perceptual-familiarization. Study IV connected neural signals of familiarity with TMS of the OFA and showed that this region indeed is causally involved in the differential processing of familiar and unfamiliar faces. Our findings indicate, that the OTC processes perceptual face information, identity representations and associating semantic information. Hence, the OFA is not limited to low-level feature processing, but is versatile involved in the face network. This suggests a re-evaluation of hierarchical face models and favors a non-hierarchical model with connections between the OFA and higher face processing areas.


Citation style:
Could not load citation form.


Use and reproduction: