Brains encode faces piece by piece | Science News

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Brains encode faces piece by piece

Monkey nerve cells respond to different facial features, combine data for full picture

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1:58pm, June 1, 2017
faces

BUILD-A-FACE  Scientists showed monkeys pictures of faces (top row) while measuring the activity of a monkey’s brain cells. By adding together the information given by 205 nerve cells, researchers were able to reconstruct the faces the monkey had been shown (bottom row).

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A monkey’s brain builds a picture of a human face somewhat like a Mr. Potato Head — piecing it together bit by bit.

The code that a monkey’s brain uses to represent faces relies not on groups of nerve cells tuned to specific faces — as has been previously proposed — but on a population of about 200 cells that code for different sets of facial characteristics. Added together, the information contributed by each nerve cell lets the brain efficiently capture any face, researchers report June 1 in Cell.

“It’s a turning point in neuroscience — a major breakthrough,” says Rodrigo Quian Quiroga, a neuroscientist at the University of Leicester in England who wasn’t part of the work. “It’s a very simple mechanism to explain something as complex as recognizing faces.”

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