How the brain is wired for faces

December 01, 2004

Faces produce a particular resonance of recognition, even in the youngest infants, who respond to the sight of a face almost from birth. While neurobiologists have known that a particular area of the brain, called the fusiform face area (FFA), lights up with activity when we see a face--and even that the FFA is necessary for us to recognize faces--there is controversy over what kind of processing the area is doing.

Now, Galit Yovel and Nancy Kanwisher have tackled two central questions with one set of experiments: the nature of processing that occurs in the FFA and whether the FFA is "domain specific," that is, exclusively involved in face perception, or whether the area is engaged in more general spatial processing of visual features.

Their conclusions are that the FFA extracts configural information about faces rather than processing spatial information on the parts of faces. Also, their studies indicated that the FFA is exclusively involved in face recognition.

The researchers' experiments combined both functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and behavioral studies of subjects as they performed recognition tasks. In the widely used technique of fMRI, harmless magnetic fields and radio signals are used to measure brain activity as subjects perform tasks.

In the fMRI studies, volunteer subjects were asked to discriminate differences between faces in which the parts were spaced differently, as well as differences between faces in which some parts were replaced by those of different faces. For the nonface objects, the researchers substituted images of houses, altering the spacing or identity of the windows and doors.

In the behavioral tests, volunteers were asked to match either houses or faces with such differences and their performance was measured. These experiments took advantage of the fact that face recognition shows the unique phenomenon that people find it more difficult to recognize upside-down faces than right-side-up faces.

By sophisticated analysis of their data on the two kinds of experiments, the researchers arrived at new insights into the function and specificity of the FFA.

They wrote that "contrary to a widespread view in the literature, we found no evidence that face processing mechanisms are specifically engaged in the extraction of spatial distance among parts."

Also, they wrote, "we attempted to induce face-like processing of nonface stimuli (houses) by matching discrimination tasks on houses as closely as we could to discrimination tasks on faces. This effort failed dramatically...These data support the domain specificity of face processing."
-end-
Galit Yovel and Nancy Kanwisher: "Face Perception: Domain Specific, Not Process Specific"

Publishing in Neuron, Volume 44, Number 5, December 2, 2004, pages 889-898. www.neuron.org

Cell Press

Related Brain Articles from Brightsurf:

Glioblastoma nanomedicine crosses into brain in mice, eradicates recurring brain cancer
A new synthetic protein nanoparticle capable of slipping past the nearly impermeable blood-brain barrier in mice could deliver cancer-killing drugs directly to malignant brain tumors, new research from the University of Michigan shows.

Children with asymptomatic brain bleeds as newborns show normal brain development at age 2
A study by UNC researchers finds that neurodevelopmental scores and gray matter volumes at age two years did not differ between children who had MRI-confirmed asymptomatic subdural hemorrhages when they were neonates, compared to children with no history of subdural hemorrhage.

New model of human brain 'conversations' could inform research on brain disease, cognition
A team of Indiana University neuroscientists has built a new model of human brain networks that sheds light on how the brain functions.

Human brain size gene triggers bigger brain in monkeys
Dresden and Japanese researchers show that a human-specific gene causes a larger neocortex in the common marmoset, a non-human primate.

Unique insight into development of the human brain: Model of the early embryonic brain
Stem cell researchers from the University of Copenhagen have designed a model of an early embryonic brain.

An optical brain-to-brain interface supports information exchange for locomotion control
Chinese researchers established an optical BtBI that supports rapid information transmission for precise locomotion control, thus providing a proof-of-principle demonstration of fast BtBI for real-time behavioral control.

Transplanting human nerve cells into a mouse brain reveals how they wire into brain circuits
A team of researchers led by Pierre Vanderhaeghen and Vincent Bonin (VIB-KU Leuven, Université libre de Bruxelles and NERF) showed how human nerve cells can develop at their own pace, and form highly precise connections with the surrounding mouse brain cells.

Brain scans reveal how the human brain compensates when one hemisphere is removed
Researchers studying six adults who had one of their brain hemispheres removed during childhood to reduce epileptic seizures found that the remaining half of the brain formed unusually strong connections between different functional brain networks, which potentially help the body to function as if the brain were intact.

Alcohol byproduct contributes to brain chemistry changes in specific brain regions
Study of mouse models provides clear implications for new targets to treat alcohol use disorder and fetal alcohol syndrome.

Scientists predict the areas of the brain to stimulate transitions between different brain states
Using a computer model of the brain, Gustavo Deco, director of the Center for Brain and Cognition, and Josephine Cruzat, a member of his team, together with a group of international collaborators, have developed an innovative method published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Sept.

Read More: Brain News and Brain Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.