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Are Face and Object Recognition Independent? A Neurocomputational Modeling Exploration


Are face and object recognition abilities independent? Although it is commonly believed that they are, Gauthier et al. [Gauthier, I., McGugin, R. W., Richler, J. J., Herzmann, G., Speegle, M., & VanGulick, A. E. Experience moderates overlap between object and face recognition, suggesting a common ability. Journal of Vision, 14, 7, 2014] recently showed that these abilities become more correlated as experience with nonface categories increases. They argued that there is a single underlying visual ability, v, that is expressed in performance with both face and nonface categories as experience grows. Using the Cambridge Face Memory Test and the Vanderbilt Expertise Test, they showed that the shared variance between Cambridge Face Memory Test and Vanderbilt Expertise Test performance increases monotonically as experience increases. Here, we address why a shared resource across different visual domains does not lead to competition and to an inverse correlation in abilities? We explain this conundrum using our neurocomputational model of face and object processing ["The Model", TM, Cottrell, G. W., & Hsiao, J. H. Neurocomputational models of face processing. In A. J. Calder, G. Rhodes, M. Johnson, & J. Haxby (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of face perception. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2011]. We model the domain general ability v as the available computational resources (number of hidden units) in the mapping from input to label and experience as the frequency of individual exemplars in an object category appearing during network training. Our results show that, as in the behavioral data, the correlation between subordinate level face and object recognition accuracy increases as experience grows. We suggest that different domains do not compete for resources because the relevant features are shared between faces and objects. The essential power of experience is to generate a "spreading transform" for faces (separating them in representational space) that generalizes to objects that must be individuated. Interestingly, when the task of the network is basic level categorization, no increase in the correlation between domains is observed. Hence, our model predicts that it is the type of experience that matters and that the source of the correlation is in the fusiform face area, rather than in cortical areas that subserve basic level categorization. This result is consistent with our previous modeling elucidating why the FFA is recruited for novel domains of expertise [Tong, M. H., Joyce, C. A., & Cottrell, G. W. Why is the fusiform face area recruited for novel categories of expertise? A neurocomputational investigation. Brain Research, 1202, 14-24, 2008].

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