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Researchers Keep Rejecting Grandmother Cells after Running the Wrong Experiments: The Issue Is How Familiar Stimuli Are Identified

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Article number1800248
Number of pages9
Issue number8
Early online date19 Jul 2019
DateAccepted/In press - 3 May 2019
DateE-pub ahead of print - 19 Jul 2019
DatePublished (current) - 1 Aug 2019


There is widespread agreement in neuroscience and psychology that the visual system identifies objects and faces based on a pattern of activation over many neurons, each neuron being involved in representing many different categories. The hypothesis that the visual system includes finely-tuned neurons for specific objects or faces for the sake of identification – so-called ‘grandmother cells’ – is widely rejected. Here we argue that the rejection of grandmother cells is premature. Grandmother cells constitute a hypothesis of how familiar visual categories are identified, but the primary evidence against this hypothesis comes from studies that have failed to observe neurons that selectively respond to unfamiliar stimuli. We review these findings and show why they are irrelevant. Neuroscientists need to better understand existing models of face and object identification that include grandmother cells, and then compare the selectivity of these units with single neurons responding to stimuli that can be identified.

    Structured keywords

  • Language
  • Cognitive Science

    Research areas

  • grandother cells, distributed coding, object identification, distributed representations



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    Embargo ends: 19/07/20

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