Development of neural sensitivity to face identity correlates with perceptual discriminability

Vaidehi S. Natu, Michael A. Barnett, Jake Hartley, Jesse Gomez, Anthony Stigliani, Kalanit Grill-Spector

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


Face perception is subserved by a series of face-selective regions in the human ventral stream, which undergo prolonged development from childhood to adulthood. However, it is unknown how neural development of these regions relates to the development of face-perception abilities. Here, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure brain responses of ventral occipitotemporal regions in children (ages, 5–12 years) and adults (ages, 19–34 years) when they viewed faces that parametrically varied in dissimilarity. Since similar faces generate lower responses than dissimilar faces due to fMRI adaptation, this design objectively evaluates neural sensitivity to face identity across development. Additionally, a subset of subjects participated in a behavioral experiment to assess perceptual discriminability of face identity. Our data reveal three main findings: (1) neural sensitivity to face identity increases with age in face-selective but not object-selective regions; (2) the amplitude of responses to faces increases with age in both face-selective and object-selective regions; and (3) perceptual discriminability of face identity is correlated with the neural sensitivity to face identity of face-selective regions. In contrast, perceptual discriminability is not correlated with the amplitude of response in face-selective regions or of responses of object-selective regions. These data suggest that developmental increases in neural sensitivity to face identity in face-selective regions improve perceptual discriminability of faces. Our findings significantly advance the understanding of the neural mechanisms of development of face perception and open new avenues for using fMRI adaptation to study the neural development of high-level visual and cognitive functions more broadly.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10893-10907
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number42
StatePublished - Oct 19 2016
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Neuroscience


  • Development
  • FMRI adaptation
  • Face morphs
  • Face perception
  • High-level visual cortex


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