Doris Tsao is a neuroscientist exploring the neural mechanisms for vision in primates. She is widely recognized for pioneering the use of fMRI to target electrodes for studying visual processing in monkeys, and for her discovery and elucidation of the macaque face patch system, a model system for studying the neural basis for object recognition. She graduated from Caltech as a biology and math major, and received her PhD in neuroscience from Harvard University in 2002. She then led an independent research group at the University of Bremen (2004 – 2008). She joined Caltech in 2009 and was promoted to full professor in 2014. She became an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in 2015. Honors include the Eppendorf and Science International Prize in Neurobiology (2006), Technology Review TR35 (2007), the NIH Director’s Pioneer Award (2012), the Golden Brain Award (2014), and the MacArthur Fellowship (2018). She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Research Interests

Her central interest is to understand how the brain models the visual world. Towards this goal, her lab has delved into the problem of how the brain extracts the identity of faces. They found that face representation relies on a hierarchical network of face-selective regions in inferotemporal cortex, and cells in this network encode faces through linear projection onto a set of shape and appearance axes. Moreover, they found that this network possesses multiple siblings which each follow the same organization and coding principles but represent different sectors of object space. These findings clarify the general principles for how the brain represents high-level object identity. Moving forward, her lab seeks to understand how dynamic 3D scenes containing multiple objects are represented. This involves recordings not just in inferotemporal cortex but also the posterior parietal, medial temporal, and frontal lobes, and understanding of the interactions between these regions. A long-term goal is to understand how signals from different areas are routed and reshaped to accomplish inference, an essential step in the perception of complex, real-world scenes that is not currently understood.

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Primary Section

Section 28: Systems Neuroscience

Secondary Section

Section 52: Psychological and Cognitive Sciences