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Front Hum Neurosci. 2013 Jan 28;7:7. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00007. eCollection 2013.

Early visual experience and the recognition of basic facial expressions: involvement of the middle temporal and inferior frontal gyri during haptic identification by the early blind.

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1
Department of Physiological Sciences, The Graduate University for Advanced Studies (Sokendai) Okazaki, Japan ; Division of Cerebral Integration, National Institute for Physiological Sciences Okazaki, Japan.

Abstract

Face perception is critical for social communication. Given its fundamental importance in the course of evolution, the innate neural mechanisms can anticipate the computations necessary for representing faces. However, the effect of visual deprivation on the formation of neural mechanisms that underlie face perception is largely unknown. We previously showed that sighted individuals can recognize basic facial expressions by haptics surprisingly well. Moreover, the inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) and posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS) in the sighted subjects are involved in haptic and visual recognition of facial expressions. Here, we conducted both psychophysical and functional magnetic-resonance imaging (fMRI) experiments to determine the nature of the neural representation that subserves the recognition of basic facial expressions in early blind individuals. In a psychophysical experiment, both early blind and sighted subjects haptically identified basic facial expressions at levels well above chance. In the subsequent fMRI experiment, both groups haptically identified facial expressions and shoe types (control). The sighted subjects then completed the same task visually. Within brain regions activated by the visual and haptic identification of facial expressions (relative to that of shoes) in the sighted group, corresponding haptic identification in the early blind activated regions in the inferior frontal and middle temporal gyri. These results suggest that the neural system that underlies the recognition of basic facial expressions develops supramodally even in the absence of early visual experience.

KEYWORDS:

blind; fMRI; facial expression; haptics; psychophysics; supramodal; touch

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