Martin Giese: Neural and computational principles of the processing of dynamic faces and bodies

Universität Tübingen, Dept. of Cognitive Neurology, CIN & HIH



Body motion is a fundamental signal of social communication. This includes facial as well as full-body movements. Combining advanced methods from computer animation with motion capture in humans and monkeys, we synthesized highly-realistic monkey avatar models. Our face avatar is perceived by monkeys as almost equivalent to a real animal, and does not induce an ‘uncanny valley effect’, unlike all other previously used avatar models in studies with monkeys. Applying machine-learning methods for the control of motion style, we were able to investigate how species-specific shape and dynamic cues influence the perception of human and monkey facial expressions. Human observers showed very fast learning of monkey expressions, and a perceptual encoding of expression dynamics that was largely independent of facial shape. This result is in line with the fact that facial shape evolved faster than the neuromuscular control in primate phylogenesis. At the same time, it challenges popular neural network models of the recognition of dynamic faces that assume a joint encoding of facial shape and dynamics. We propose an alternative physiologically-inspired neural model that realizes such an orthogonal encoding of facial shape and expression from video sequences.

As second example, we investigated the perception of social interactions from abstract stimuli, similar to the ones by Heider & Simmel (1944), and also from more realistic stimuli. We developed and validated a new generative model for the synthesis of such social interaction, which is based on a modification of human navigation model. We demonstrate that the recognition of such stimuli, including the perception of agency, can be accounted for by a relatively elementary physiologically-inspired hierarchical neural recognition model, that does not require the assumption of sophisticated inference mechanisms, as postulated by some cognitive theories of social recognition.

Summarizing, this suggests that essential phenomena in social cognition might be accounted for by a small set of simple neural principles that can be easily implemented by cortical circuits. The developed technologies for stimulus control form the basis of electrophysiological studies that can verify specific neural circuits, as the ones proposed by our theoretical models.

Acknowledgements Supported by HFSP RGP0036/2016, BMBF FKZ 01GQ1704, KONSENS-NH BW Stiftung NEU007/1, DFG GZ: KA 1258/15-1; CogIMon H2020 ICT-644727,


Organized by

Elisa Filevich/Margret Franke

Location: Virtual Talk; invitations will be sent.

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