A New Viewpoint on Faces

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Science  05 Nov 2010:
Vol. 330, Issue 6005, pp. 764-765
DOI: 10.1126/science.1198348

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One of the most fundamental features of the primate brain is its organization into hierarchical networks for sequential information processing. The visual hierarchy is a densely interconnected network of more than 30 distinct brain regions. It radiates forward from the primary visual cortex near the back of the head along a dorsal (upper) “where” pathway (which processes space and motion) and a ventral (lower) “what” pathway (which processes objects and scenes) (1). Why are there so many stages of visual processing, and how do they function together to create visual experience and knowledge? Answering these questions has been especially difficult for the ventral pathway, due to the virtual infinity of potential objects the brain can perceive. On page 845 of this issue (2), Freiwald and Tsao focus on one unique category of objects—human faces—as a paradigm for understanding hierarchical processing in the ventral pathway.