Hans Op de Beeck


The representational transformations underlying the human object recognition machine

Humans and other primates are able to organize the complex flow of visual information into meaningful chunks, including the objects that can be recognized and acted upon. Here I will describe how the underlying computations at the neural level can be characterized as a serial hierarchy of progressively abstract representations. I will describe recent research investigating representational structure in the human brain through functional neuroimaging, integrated with insights from deep convolutional networks trained in object classification. Crucially, these studies include innovative experimental designs that dissociate the multiple dimensions that characterize neural representations. Further investigations of special cases in which either the human visual system or artificial networks break down, so-called adversarial examples, provide further insight into the extent to which we can (or cannot) consider the human visual brain as a general object recognition machine.


I am interested in how the brain allows us to behave intelligently (at least sometimes ...), and to quickly understand and learn what is happening in the world around us. Currently (since 2009) I am a professor in the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences of the University of Leuven (KU Leuven). I am the director of the department of Brain & Cognition and a faculty member of the Laboratory of Biological Psychology (LBP). I obtained a master’s degree (1999) and a Ph.D. degree (2003) in Psychology in Leuven, under the supervision of Johan Wagemans and Rufin Vogels. In 2003-2005 I was a postdoc at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (USA), where I worked with Nancy Kanwisher and Jim DiCarlo. During many years (PhD research and postdoc years) I received fellowships from the Fund for Scientific Research (FWO) Flanders. Other awarded support include a long-term fellowship and a career development award of the international Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP), a honorary fellowship of the Belgian-American Educational Foundation (BAEF), the prize of the research council Leuven in 2008, and laureate (2012) of the Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium (KVAB). I have also been a member of the "Jonge Academie" of Belgium from 2013 to 2018.