A head view-invariant representation of gaze direction in anterior superior temporal sulcus.
Carlin JD., Calder AJ., Kriegeskorte N., Nili H., Rowe JB.
Humans show a remarkable ability to discriminate others' gaze direction, even though a given direction can be conveyed by many physically dissimilar configurations of different eye positions and head views. For example, eye contact can be signaled by a rightward glance in a left-turned head or by direct gaze in a front-facing head. Such acute gaze discrimination implies considerable perceptual invariance. Previous human research found that superior temporal sulcus (STS) responds preferentially to gaze shifts , but the underlying representation that supports such general responsiveness remains poorly understood. Using multivariate pattern analysis (MVPA) of human functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data, we tested whether STS contains a higher-order, head view-invariant code for gaze direction. The results revealed a finely graded gaze direction code in right anterior STS that was invariant to head view and physical image features. Further analyses revealed similar gaze effects in left anterior STS and precuneus. Our results suggest that anterior STS codes the direction of another's attention regardless of how this information is conveyed and demonstrate how high-level face areas carry out fine-grained, perceptually relevant discrimination through invariance to other face features.