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Keywords:

  • face recognition;
  • reverse correlation;
  • fMRI

What basic visual structures underlie human face detection and how can we extract such structures directly from the amplitude of neural responses elicited by face processing? Here, we address these issues by investigating an extension of noise-based image classification to BOLD responses recorded in high-level visual areas. First, we assess the applicability of this classification method to such data and, second, we explore its results in connection with the neural processing of faces. To this end, we construct luminance templates from white noise fields based on the response of face-selective areas in the human ventral cortex. Using behaviorally and neurally-derived classification images, our results reveal a family of simple but robust image structures subserving face representation and detection. Thus, we confirm the role played by classical face selective regions in face detection and we help clarify the representational basis of this perceptual function. From a theory standpoint, our findings support the idea of simple but highly diagnostic neurally-coded features for face detection. At the same time, from a methodological perspective, our work demonstrates the ability of noise-based image classification in conjunction with fMRI to help uncover the structure of high-level perceptual representations. Hum Brain Mapp 34:3101–3115, 2013. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.