Older news items (pre-2010) brought over from the old website
Children recognize other children’s faces better than adults do
It is well known that people find it easier to distinguish between the faces of people from their own race, compared to those from a different race. It is also known that adults recognize the faces of other adults better than the faces of children. This may relate to holistic processing of the face (seeing the face as a whole rather than analyzing it feature by feature) — it may be that we more easily recognize faces for which we have strong holistic ‘templates’. A new study has tested to see whether the same is true for children aged 8 to 13. The study found that children had stronger holistic processing for other children than adults did. This may reflect an own-age bias, but I’d love to see what happens with teachers, or any other adults who spend much of their time with many children.
The Composite Task Reveals Stronger Holistic Processing in Children than Adults for Child Faces. PLoS ONE [Internet]. 2009 ;4(7):e6460 - e6460. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0006460
Full text at http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0006460
Alcoholics show abnormal brain activity when processing facial expressions
Excessive chronic drinking is known to be associated with deficits in comprehending emotional information, such as recognizing different facial expressions. Now an imaging study of abstinent long-term alcoholics has found that they show decreased and abnormal activity in the amygdala and hippocampus when looking at facial expressions. They also show increased activity in the lateral prefrontal cortex, perhaps in an attempt to compensate for the failure of the limbic areas. The finding is consistent with other studies showing alcoholics invoking additional and sometimes higher-order brain systems to accomplish a relatively simple task at normal levels. The study compared 15 abstinent long-term alcoholics and 15 healthy, nonalcoholic controls, matched on socioeconomic backgrounds, age, education, and IQ.
Alcoholism and dampened temporal limbic activation to emotional faces. Alcoholism, Clinical and Experimental Research [Internet]. 2009 ;33(11):1880 - 1892. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19673745
More insight into encoding of identity information
Different pictures of, say, Marilyn Monroe can evoke the same mental image — even hearing or reading her name can evoke the same concept. So how exactly does that work? A study in which pictures, spoken and written names were used has revealed that single neurons in the hippocampus and surrounding areas respond selectively to representations of the same individual regardless of the sensory cue. Moreover, this occurs very quickly, not only to very familiar people — the same process was observed with the researcher’s image and name, although he was unknown to the subject a day or two earlier. It also appears that the degree of abstraction reflects the hierarchical structure within the mediotemporal lobe.
Explicit Encoding of Multimodal Percepts by Single Neurons in the Human Brain. Current Biology [Internet]. 2009 ;19(15):1308 - 1313. Available from: http://www.cell.com/current-biology/abstract/S0960-9822(09)01377-3
Monkeys and humans use the same mechanism to recognize faces
The remarkable ability of humans to distinguish faces depends on sensitivity to unique configurations of facial features. One of the best demonstrations for this sensitivity comes from our difficulty in detecting changes in the orientation of the eyes and mouth in an inverted face — what is known as the Thatcher effect . A new study has revealed that this effect is also demonstrated among rhesus macaque monkeys, indicating that our skills in facial recognition date back 30 million years or more.
Thatcher Effect in Monkeys Demonstrates Conservation of Face Perception across Primates. Current Biology [Internet]. 2009 ;19(15):1270 - 1273. Available from: http://www.cell.com/current-biology/abstract/S0960-9822(09)01195-6
Face recognition may vary more than thought
We know that "face-blindness" (prosopagnosia) may afflict as many as 2%, but until now it’s been thought that either a person has ‘normal’ face recognition skills, or they have a recognition disorder. Now for the first time a new group has been identified: those who are "super-recognizers", who have a truly remarkable ability to recognize faces, even those only seen in passing many years earlier. The finding suggests that these two abnormal groups are merely the ends of a spectrum — that face recognition ability varies widely.
Super-recognizers: people with extraordinary face recognition ability. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review [Internet]. 2009 ;16(2):252 - 257. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19293090
Oxytocin improves human ability to recognize faces but not places
The breastfeeding hormone oxytocin has been found to increase social behaviors like trust. A new study has found that a single dose of an oxytocin nasal spray resulted in improved recognition memory for faces, but not for inanimate objects, suggesting that different mechanisms exist for social and nonsocial memory. Further analysis showed that oxytocin selectively improved the discrimination of new and familiar faces — participants with oxytocin were less likely to mistakenly characterize unfamiliar faces as familiar.
Oxytocin Makes a Face in Memory Familiar. J. Neurosci. [Internet]. 2009 ;29(1):38 - 42. Available from: http://www.jneurosci.org/cgi/content/abstract/29/1/38
Insight into 'face blindness'
An imaging study has finally managed to see a physical difference in the brains of those with congenital prosopagnosia (face blindness): reduced connectivity in the region that processes faces. Specifically, a reduction in the integrity of the white matter tracts in the ventral occipito-temporal cortex, the extent of which was related to the severity of the impairment.
Reduced structural connectivity in ventral visual cortex in congenital prosopagnosia. Nat Neurosci [Internet]. 2009 ;12(1):29 - 31. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nn.2224
Visual expertise marked by left-side bias
It’s been established that facial recognition involves both holistic processing (seeing the face as a whole rather than the sum of parts) and a left-side bias. The new study explores whether these effects are specific to face processing, by seeing how Chinese characters, which share many of the same features as faces, are processed by native Chinese and non-Chinese readers. It was found that non-readers tended to look at the Chinese characters more holistically, and that native Chinese readers prefer characters that are made of two left sides. These findings suggest that whether or not we use holistic processing depends on the task performed with the object and its features, and that holistic processing is not used in general visual expertise – but left-side bias is.
Not all visual expertise is holistic, but it may be leftist: the case of Chinese character recognition. Psychological Science: A Journal of the American Psychological Society / APS [Internet]. 2009 ;20(4):455 - 463. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19399974
Object recognition fast and early in processing
We see through our eye and with our brain. Visual information flows from the retina through a hierarchy of visual areas in the brain until it reaches the temporal lobe, which is ultimately responsible for our visual perceptions, and also sends information back along the line, solidifying perception. This much we know, but how much processing goes on at each stage, and how important feedback is compared to ‘feedforward’, is still under exploration. A new study involving children about to undergo surgery for epilepsy (using invasive electrode techniques) reveals that feedback from the ‘smart’ temporal lobe is less important than we thought, that the brain can recognize objects under a variety of conditions very rapidly, at a very early processing stage. It appears that certain areas of the visual cortex selectively respond to specific categories of objects.
Timing, Timing, Timing: Fast Decoding of Object Information from Intracranial Field Potentials in Human Visual Cortex. Neuron [Internet]. 2009 ;62(2):281 - 290. Available from: http://www.cell.com/neuron/abstract/S0896-6273(09)00171-8
New brain region associated with face recognition
Using a new technique, researchers have found evidence for neurons that are selectively tuned for gender, ethnicity and identity cues in the cingulate gyrus, a brain area not previously associated with face processing.
Selectivity for the configural cues that identify the gender, ethnicity, and identity of faces in human cortex. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [Internet]. 2006 ;103(51):19552 - 19557. Available from: http://www.pnas.org/content/103/51/19552.abstract
No specialized face area
Another study has come out casting doubt on the idea that there is an area of the brain specialized for faces. The fusiform gyrus has been dubbed the "fusiform face area", but a detailed imaging study has revealed that different patches of neurons respond to different images. However, twice as many of the patches are predisposed to faces versus inanimate objects (cars and abstract sculptures), and patches that respond to faces outnumber those that respond to four-legged animals by 50%. But patches that respond to the same images are not physically connected, implying a "face area" may not even exist.
High-resolution imaging reveals highly selective nonface clusters in the fusiform face area. Nat Neurosci [Internet]. 2007 ;10(1):133 - 133. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nn0107-133
Face blindness is a common hereditary disorder
A German study has found 17 cases of the supposedly rare disorder prosopagnosia (face blindness) among 689 subjects recruited from local secondary schools and a medical school. Of the 14 subjects who consented to further interfamilial testing, all of them had at least one first degree relative who also had it. Because of the compensation strategies that sufferers learn to utilize at an early age, many of them do not realize that it is an actual disorder or even realize that other members of their family have it — which may explain why it has been thought to be so rare. The disorder is one of the few cognitive dysfunctions that has only one symptom and is inherited. It is apparently controlled by a defect in a single gene.
First report of prevalence of non-syndromic hereditary prosopagnosia (HPA). American Journal of Medical Genetics. Part A [Internet]. 2006 ;140(15):1617 - 1622. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16817175
Nothing special about face recognition
A new study adds to a growing body of evidence that there is nothing special about face recognition. The researchers have found experimental support for their model of how a brain circuit for face recognition could work. The model shows how face recognition can occur simply from selective processing of shapes of facial features. Moreover, the model equally well accounted for the recognition of cars.
Evaluation of a Shape-Based Model of Human Face Discrimination Using fMRI and Behavioral Techniques. Neuron [Internet]. 2006 ;50(1):159 - 172. Available from: http://www.cell.com/neuron/abstract/S0896-6273(06)00205-4
Rare learning disability particularly impacts face recognition
A study of 14 children with Nonverbal Learning Disability (NLD) has found that the children were poor at recognizing faces. NLD has been associated with difficulties in visual spatial processing, but this specific deficit with faces hasn’t been identified before. NLD affects less than 1% of the population and appears to be congenital.
Memory Profile of Children with Nonverbal Learning Disability. Learning Disablilities Research & Practice [Internet]. 2005 ;20(3):137 - 141. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-5826.2005.00128.x
Single cell recognition research finds specific neurons for concepts
An intriguing study surprises cognitive researchers by showing that individual neurons in the medial temporal lobe are able to recognize specific people and objects. It’s long been thought that concepts such as these require a network of cells, and this doesn’t deny that many cells are involved. However, this new study points to the importance of a single brain cell. The study of 8 epileptic subjects found variable responses from subjects, but within subjects, individuals showed remarkably specific responses to concepts. For example, a single neuron in the left posterior hippocampus of one subject responded to all pictures of actress Jennifer Aniston, and also to Lisa Kudrow, her co-star on the TV hit "Friends", but not to pictures of Jennifer Aniston together with actor Brad Pitt, and not, or only very weakly, to other famous and non-famous faces, landmarks, animals or objects. In another patient, pictures of actress Halle Berry activated a neuron in the right anterior hippocampus, as did a caricature of the actress, images of her in the lead role of the film "Catwoman," and a letter sequence spelling her name. The results suggest an invariant, sparse and explicit code, which might be important in the transformation of complex visual percepts into long-term and more abstract memories.
Invariant visual representation by single neurons in the human brain. Nature [Internet]. 2005 ;435(7045):1102 - 1107. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature03687
Evidence faces are processed like words
It has been suggested that faces and words are recognized differently, that faces are identified by wholes, whereas words and other objects are identified by parts. However, a recent study has devised a new test, that finds people use letters to recognize words and facial features to recognize faces.
Are faces processed like words? A diagnostic test for recognition by parts. Journal of Vision [Internet]. 2005 ;5(1). Available from: http://www.journalofvision.org/content/5/1/6.abstract
You can read this article online at http://www.journalofvision.org//5/1/6/.
Face blindness runs in families
A study of those with prosopagnosia (face blindness) and their relatives has revealed a genetic basis to the neurological condition. An earlier questionnaire study by the same researcher (himself prosopagnosic) suggests the impairment may be more common than has been thought. The study involved 576 biology students. Nearly 2% reported face-blindness symptoms.
Hereditary Prosopagnosia: the First Case Series. Cortex [Internet]. 2007 ;43(6):734 - 749. Available from: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0010945208705021
Faces must be seen to be recognized
In an interesting new perspective on face recognition, a series of perception experiments have revealed that identifying a face depends on actually seeing it, as opposed to merely having the image of the face fall on the retina. In other words, attention is necessary.
Face Adaptation Depends on Seeing the Face. Neuron [Internet]. 2005 ;45(1):169 - 175. Available from: http://www.cell.com/neuron/abstract/S0896-6273(04)00834-7
New insight into the relationship between recognizing faces and recognizing expressions
The quest to create a computer that can recognize faces and interpret facial expressions has given new insight into how the human brain does it. A study using faces photographed with four different facial expressions (happy, angry, screaming, and neutral), with different lighting, and with and without different accessories (like sunglasses), tested how long people took to decide if two faces belonged to the same person. Another group were tested to see how fast they could identify the expressions. It was found that people were quicker to recognize faces and facial expressions that involved little muscle movement, and slower to recognize expressions that involved a lot of movement. This supports the idea that recognition of faces and recognition of facial expressions are linked – it appears, through the part of the brain that helps us understand motion.
Matching expression variant faces. Vision Research [Internet]. 2003 ;43(9):1047 - 1060. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12676247
How the brain is wired for faces
The question of how special face recognition is — whether it is a process quite distinct from recognition of other objects, or whether we are simply highly practiced at this particular type of recognition — has been a subject of debate for some time. A new imaging study has concluded that the fusiform face area (FFA), a brain region crucially involved in face recognition, extracts configural information about faces rather than processing spatial information on the parts of faces. The study also indicated that the FFA is only involved in face recognition.
Yovel, G. & Kanwisher, N. 2004. Face Perception: Domain Specific, Not Process Specific. Neuron, 44 (5), 889–898.
How the brain recognizes a face
Face recognition involves at least three stages. An imaging study has now localized these stages to particular regions of the brain. It was found that the inferior occipital gyrus was particularly sensitive to slight physical changes in faces. The right fusiform gyrus (RFG), appeared to be involved in making a more general appraisal of the face and compares it to the brain's database of stored memories to see if it is someone familiar. The third activated region, the anterior temporal cortex (ATC), is believed to store facts about people and is thought to be an essential part of the identifying process.
Rotshtein, P., Henson, R.N.A., Treves, A., Driver, J. & Dolan, R.J. 2005. Morphing Marilyn into Maggie dissociates physical and identity face representations in the brain. Nature Neuroscience, 8, 107-113.
Memories of crime stories influenced by racial stereotypes
The influence of stereotypes on memory, a well-established phenomenon, has been demonstrated anew in a study concerning people's memory of news photographs. In the study, 163 college students (of whom 147 were White) examined one of four types of news stories, all about a hypothetical Black man. Two of the stories were not about crime, the third dealt with non-violent crime, while the fourth focused on violent crime. All four stories included an identical photograph of the same man. Afterwards, participants reconstructed the photograph by selecting from a series of facial features presented on a computer screen. It was found that selected features didn’t differ from the actual photograph in the non-crime conditions, but for the crime stories, more pronounced African-American features tended to be selected, particularly so for the story concerning violent crime. Participants appeared largely unaware of their associations of violent crime with the physical characteristics of African-Americans.
The Face of Crime: Viewers' Memory of Race-Related Facial Features of Individuals Pictured in the News. The Journal of Communication [Internet]. 2004 ;54(1):88 - 104. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1460-2466.2004.tb02615.x
Special training may help people with autism recognize faces
People with autism tend to activate object-related brain regions when they are viewing unfamiliar faces, rather than a specific face-processing region. They also tend to focus on particular features, such as a mustache or a pair of glasses. However, a new study has found that when people with autism look at a picture of a very familiar face, such as their mother's, their brain activity is similar to that of control subjects – involving the fusiform gyrus, a region in the brain's temporal lobe that is associated with face processing, rather than the inferior temporal gyrus, an area associated with objects. Use of the fusiform gyrus in recognizing faces is a process that starts early with non-autistic people, but does take time to develop (usually complete by age 12). The study indicates that the fusiform gyrus in autistic people does have the potential to function normally, but may need special training to operate properly.
Aylward, E. 2004. Functional MRI studies of face processing in adolescents and adults with autism: Role of experience. Paper presented February 14 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Seattle.
Dawson, G. & Webb, S. 2004. Event related potentials reveal early abnormalities in face processing autism. Paper presented February 14 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Seattle.
How faces become familiar
With faces, familiarity makes a huge difference. Even when pictures are high quality and faces are shown at the same time, we make a surprising number of mistakes when trying to decide if two pictures are of the same person – when the face is unknown to us. On the other hand, even when picture quality is very poor, we’re very good at recognising familiar faces. So how do faces become familiar to us? Recent research led by Vicki Bruce (well-known in this field) showed volunteers video sequences of people, episodes of unfamiliar soap operas, and images of familiar but previously unseen characters from radio's The Archers and voices from The Simpsons. They confirmed previous research suggesting that for unfamiliar faces, memory appears dominated by the 'external' features, but where the face is well-known it is 'internal' features such as the eyes, nose and mouth, that are more important. The shift to internal features occurred rapidly, within minutes. Speed of learning was unaffected by whether the faces were experienced as static or moving images, or with or without accompanying voices, but faces which belonged to well-known, though previously unseen, personal identities were learned more easily.
Bruce, V., Burton, M. et al. 2003. Getting To Know You – How We Learn New Faces. A research report funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).
Face recognition may not be a special case
Many researchers have argued that the brain processes faces quite separately from other objects — that faces are a special class. Research has shown many ways in which face recognition does seem to be a special case, but it could be argued that the differences are due not to a separate processing system, but to people’s expertise with faces. We have, after all, plenty of evidence that babies are programmed right from the beginning to pay lots of attention to faces. A new study has endeavored to answer this question, by looking at separate and concurrent perception of faces and cars, by people who were “car buffs” and those who were not. If expert processing of these objects depends on a common mechanism (presumed to be related to the perception of objects as wholes), then car perception would be expected to interfere with concurrent face perception. Moreover, such interference should get worse, as the subjects became more expert at processing cars. This is indeed what was found. Experts were found to recognize cars holistically, but this recognition interfered with their recognition of familiar faces. While novices processed the cars piece by piece, in a slower process that did not interfere with face recognition. This study follows on from earlier research in which car fanciers and bird watchers were found to identify cars and birds, respectively, using the same area of the brain as is used in face recognition. A subsequent study found that people trained to identify novel, computer-generated objects, began to recognize them holistically (as is done in face recognition). This latest study shows that, not only is experts’ car recognition occurring in the same brain region as face recognition, but that the same neural circuits are involved.
Perceptual interference supports a non-modular account of face processing. Nat Neurosci [Internet]. 2003 ;6(4):428 - 432. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nn1029
Detection of foreign faces faster than faces of your own race
A recent study tracked the time it takes for the brain to perceive the faces of people of other races as opposed to faces from the same race. The faces were mixed with images of everyday objects, and the subjects were given the distracting task of counting butterflies. The study found that the Caucasian subjects took longer to detect Caucasian faces than Asian faces. The study complements an earlier imaging study that showed that, when people are actively trying to recognize faces, they are better at recognizing members of their own race. [see Why recognizing a face is easier when the race matches our own]
Face versus non-face object perception and the â€˜other-raceâ€™ effect: a spatio-temporal event-related potential study. Clinical Neurophysiology [Internet]. 2003 ;114(3):515 - 528. Available from: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1388245702004078
Women better at recognizing female but not male faces
Women’s superiority in face recognition tasks appears to be due to their better recognition of female faces. There was no difference between men and women in the recognition of male faces.
Sex differences in face recognition--Women's faces make the difference. Brain and Cognition [Internet]. 2002 ;50(1):121 - 128. Available from: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/B6WBY-46WVHDY-C/2/20e92b605a3fb8210460c4766ba66d35
Imaging confirms people knowledge processed differently
Earlier research has demonstrated that semantic knowledge for different classes of inanimate objects (e.g., tools, musical instruments, and houses) is processed in different brain regions. A new imaging study looked at knowledge about people, and found a unique pattern of brain activity was associated with person judgments, supporting the idea that person knowledge is functionally dissociable from other classes of semantic knowledge within the brain.
Distinct neural systems subserve person and object knowledge. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America [Internet]. 2002 ;99(23):15238 - 15243. Available from: http://www.pnas.org/content/99/23/15238.abstract
Identity memory area localized
An imaging study investigating brain activation when people were asked to answer yes or no to statements about themselves (e.g. 'I forget important things', 'I'm a good friend', 'I have a quick temper'), found consistent activation in the anterior medial prefrontal and posterior cingulate. This is consistent with lesion studies, and suggests that these areas of the cortex are involved in self-reflective thought.
Neural correlates of self-reflection. Brain [Internet]. 2002 ;125(8):1808 - 1814. Available from: http://brain.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/125/8/1808
Recognizing yourself is different from recognizing other people
Recognition of familiar faces occurs largely in the right side of the brain, but new research suggests that identifying your own face occurs more in the left side of your brain. Evidence for this comes from a split-brain patient (a person whose corpus callosum – the main bridge of nerve fibers between the two hemispheres of the brain - has been severed to minimize the spread of epileptic seizure activity). The finding needs to be confirmed in studies of people with intact brains, but it suggests not only that there is a distinction between recognizing your self and recognizing other people you know well, but also that memories and knowledge about oneself may be stored largely in the left hemisphere.
Mike or me? Self-recognition in a split-brain patient. Nat Neurosci [Internet]. 2002 ;5(9):841 - 842. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nn907
Differential effects of encoding strategy on brain activity patterns
Encoding and recognition of unfamiliar faces in young adults were examined using PET imaging to determine whether different encoding strategies would lead to differences in brain activity. It was found that encoding activated a primarily ventral system including bilateral temporal and fusiform regions and left prefrontal cortices, whereas recognition activated a primarily dorsal set of regions including right prefrontal and parietal areas. The type of encoding strategy produced different brain activity patterns. There was no effect of encoding strategy on brain activity during recognition. The left inferior prefrontal cortex was engaged during encoding regardless of strategy.
The effect of encoding strategy on the neural correlates of memory for faces. Neuropsychologia [Internet]. 2002 ;40(1):86 - 98. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11595264
Babies' experience with faces leads to narrowing of perception
A theory that infants' experience in viewing faces causes their brains (in particular an area of the cerebral cortex known as the fusiform gyrus) to "tune in" to the types of faces they see most often and tune out other types, has been given support from a study showing that 6-month-old babies were significantly better than both adults and 9-month-old babies in distinguishing the faces of monkeys. All groups were able to distinguish human faces from one another.
Is Face Processing Species-Specific During the First Year of Life?. Science [Internet]. 2002 ;296(5571):1321 - 1323. Available from: http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/296/5571/1321
Different brain regions implicated in the representation of the structure and meaning of pictured objects
Imaging studies continue apace! Having established that that part of the brain known as the fusiform gyrus is important in picture naming, a new study further refines our understanding by studying the cerebral blood flow (CBF) changes in response to a picture naming task that varied on two dimensions: familiarity (or difficulty: hard vs easy) and category (tools vs animals). Results show that although familiarity effects are present in the frontal and left lateral posterior temporal cortex, they are absent from the fusiform gyrus. The authors conclude that the fusiform gyrus processes information relating to an object's structure, rather than its meaning. The blood flows suggest that it is the left posterior middle temporal gyrus that is involved in representing the object's meaning.
Dissociable brain regions process object meaning and object structure during picture naming. Neuropsychologia [Internet]. 2002 ;40(2):174 - 186. Available from: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/B6T0D-4465750-6/2/0c2055de1cc1afdee26f18f2f0b0e848
Debate over how the brain deals with visual information
Neuroscientists can't agree on whether the brain uses specific regions to distinguish specific objects, or patterns of activity from different regions. The debate over how the brain deals with visual information has been re-ignited with apparently contradictory findings from two research groups. One group has pinpointed a distinct region in the brain that responds selectively to images of the human body, while another concludes that the representations of a wide range of image categories are dealt with by overlapping brain regions. (see below)
Specific brain region responds specifically to images of the human body
Cognitive neuroscientists have identified a new area of the human brain that responds specifically when people view images of the human body. They have named this region of the brain the 'extrastriate body area' or 'EBA'. The EBA can be distinguished from other known anatomical subdivisions of the visual cortex. However, the EBA is in a region of the brain called the posterior superior temporal sulcus, where other areas have been implicated in the perception of socially relevant information such as the direction that another person's eyes are gazing, the sound of human voices, or the inferred intentions of animate entities.
Brain scan patterns identify objects being viewed
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) scientists have shown that they can tell what kind of object a person is looking at — a face, a house, a shoe, a chair — by the pattern of brain activity it evokes. Earlier NIMH fMRI studies had shown that brain areas that respond maximally to a particular category of object are consistent across different people. This new study finds that the full pattern of responses — not just the areas of maximal activation — is consistent within the same person for a given category of object. Overall, the pattern of fMRI responses predicted the category with 96% accuracy. Accuracy was l00% for faces, houses and scrambled pictures.
A Cortical Area Selective for Visual Processing of the Human Body. Science [Internet]. 2001 ;293(5539):2470 - 2473. Available from: http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/293/5539/2470
Distributed and Overlapping Representations of Faces and Objects in Ventral Temporal Cortex. Science [Internet]. 2001 ;293(5539):2425 - 2430. Available from: http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/293/5539/2425
Why recognizing a face is easier when the race matches our own
We have known for a while that recognizing a face is easier when its owner's race matches our own. An imaging study now shows that greater activity in the brain's expert face-discrimination area occurs when the subject is viewing faces that belong to members of the same race as their own.
Golby, A. J., Gabrieli, J. D. E., Chiao, J. Y. & Eberhardt, J. L. 2001. Differential responses in the fusiform region to same-race and other-race faces. Nature Neuroscience, 4, 845-850.
Boys' and girls' brains process faces differently
Previous research has suggested a right-hemisphere superiority in face processing, as well as adult male superiority at spatial and non-verbal skills (also associated with the right hemisphere of the brain). This study looked at face recognition and the ability to read facial expressions in young, pre-pubertal boys and girls. Boys and girls were equally good at recognizing faces and identifying expressions, but boys showed significantly greater activity in the right hemisphere, while the girls' brains were more active in the left hemisphere. It is speculated that boys tend to process faces at a global level (right hemisphere), while girls process faces at a more local level (left hemisphere). This may mean that females have an advantage in reading fine details of expression. More importantly, it may be that different treatments might be appropriate for males and females in the case of brain injury.
Sex-related differences in event-related potentials, face recognition, and facial affect processing in prepubertal children. Neuropsychology. 2001 ;15(3):329 - 341.
Children's recognition of faces
Children aged 4 to 7 were found to be able to use both configural and featural information to recognize faces. However, even when trained to proficiency on recognizing the target faces, their recognition was impaired when a superfluous hat was added to the face.
Face Recognition in 4- to 7-Year-Olds: Processing of Configural, Featural, and Paraphernalia Information. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology [Internet]. 2001 ;80(4):347 - 371. Available from: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/B6WJ9-457D48M-3/2/cb66483ea30cd07cb6c2047ade7b1e57
Differences in face perception processing between autistic and normal adults
An imaging study compared activation patterns of adults with autism and normal control subjects during a face perception task. While autistic subjects could perform the face perception task, none of the regions supporting face processing in normals were found to be significantly active in the autistic subjects. Instead, in every autistic patient, faces maximally activated aberrant and individual-specific neural sites (e.g. frontal cortex, primary visual cortex, etc.), which was in contrast to the 100% consistency of maximal activation within the traditional fusiform face area (FFA) for every normal subject. It appears that, as compared with normal individuals, autistic individuals `see' faces utilizing different neural systems, with each patient doing so via a unique neural circuitry.
Face processing occurs outside the fusiform `face area' in autism: evidence from functional MRI. Brain [Internet]. 2001 ;124(10):2059 - 2073. Available from: http://brain.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/124/10/2059