Adaptation across the cortical hierarchy: Low level curve adaptation affects high level facial expression judgments

Hong Xu, Peter Dayan, Richard M. Lipkin, and Ning Qian, J. Neurosci., 2008, 28:3374-3383.
Download the full paper (PDF file)


Adaptation is ubiquitous in sensory processing. Although sensory processing is hierarchical, with neurons at higher levels exhibiting greater degrees of tuning complexity and invariance than those at lower levels, few experimental or theoretical studies address how adaptation at one hierarchical level affects processing at others. Nevertheless, this issue is critical for understanding cortical coding and computation. Therefore, we examined whether high-level facial expressions can be affected by adaptation to low-level curves (i.e., the shape of the mouth). After adapting to a concave curve, subjects more frequently perceived faces as happy; and after adapting to a convex curve, subjects more frequently perceived faces as sad. We observed this multilevel aftereffect with both cartoon and real test faces when the adapting curve and the mouths of the test faces had the same location. However, when we placed the adapting curve 0.2 deg below the test faces, the effect disappeared. Surprisingly, this positional specificity held even when real faces, instead of curves, were the adapting stimuli, suggesting that it is a general property for facial-expression aftereffects. We also studied the converse question of whether face adaptation affects curvature judgments, and found such effects after adapting to a cartoon face, but not a real face. Our results suggest that there is a local component in facial-expression representation, in addition to holistic representations emphasized in previous studies. By showing that adaptation can propagate up the cortical hierarchy, our findings also challenge existing functional accounts of adaptation.

Back to Qian Lab Home Page