Nav: Home

Researchers map how the brain processes faces from sight to recognition

December 26, 2016

At a glance, you can recognize a friend's face whether they are happy or sad or even if you haven't seen them in a decade. How does the brain do this -- recognize familiar faces with efficiency and ease despite extensive variation in how they appear?

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University are closer than ever before to understanding the neural basis of facial identification. In a study published in the Dec. 26, 2016 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), they used highly sophisticated brain imaging tools and computational methods to measure the real-time brain processes that convert the appearance of a face into the recognition of an individual. The research team is hopeful that the findings might be used in the near future to locate the exact point at which the visual perception system breaks down in different disorders and injuries, ranging from developmental dyslexia to prosopagnosia, or face blindness.

"Our results provide a step toward understanding the stages of information processing that begin when an image of a face first enters a person's eye and unfold over the next few hundred milliseconds, until the person is able to recognize the identity of the face," said Mark D. Vida, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences' Department of Psychology and Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition (CNBC).

To determine how the brain rapidly distinguishes faces, the researchers scanned the brains of four people using magnetoencephalography (MEG). MEG allowed them to measure ongoing brain activity throughout the brain on a millisecond-by-millisecond basis while the participants viewed images of 91 different individuals with two facial expressions each: happy and neutral. The participants indicated when they recognized that the same individual's face was repeated, regardless of expression.

The MEG scans allowed the researchers to map out, for each of many points in time, which parts of the brain encode appearance-based information and which encode identity-based information. The team also compared the neural data to behavioral judgments of the face images from humans, whose judgments were based mainly on identity-based information. Then, they validated the results by comparing the neural data to the information present in different parts of a computational simulation of an artificial neural network that was trained to recognize individuals from the same face images.

"Combining the detailed timing information from MEG imaging with computational models of how the visual system works has the potential to provide insight into the real-time brain processes underlying many other abilities beyond face recognition," said David C. Plaut, professor of psychology and a member of the CNBC.
-end-
In addition to Vida and Plaut, CMU's Marlene Behrmann and University of Toronto Scarborough's Adrian Nestor participated in the study.

This research was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, Pennsylvania Department of Health's Commonwealth Universal Research Enhancement Program and the National Science Foundation.

Using MEG and computational tools to map how the brain processes faces from sight to recognition is one example of Carnegie Mellon's strengths in combining cutting-edge cognitive neuroscience with big data and analytics. The university's BrainHub initiative is designed to leverage these strengths further and focuses on how the structure and activity of the brain give rise to complex behaviors.

Carnegie Mellon University

Related Brain Articles:

Study describes changes to structural brain networks after radiotherapy for brain tumors
Researchers compared the thickness of brain cortex in patients with brain tumors before and after radiation therapy was applied and found significant dose-dependent changes in the structural properties of cortical neural networks, at both the local and global level.
Blue Brain team discovers a multi-dimensional universe in brain networks
Using a sophisticated type of mathematics in a way that it has never been used before in neuroscience, a team from the Blue Brain Project has uncovered a universe of multi-dimensional geometrical structures and spaces within the networks of the brain.
New brain mapping tool produces higher resolution data during brain surgery
Researchers have developed a new device to map the brain during surgery and distinguish between healthy and diseased tissues.
Newborn baby brain scans will help scientists track brain development
Scientists have today published ground-breaking scans of newborn babies' brains which researchers from all over the world can download and use to study how the human brain develops.
New test may quickly identify mild traumatic brain injury with underlying brain damage
A new test using peripheral vision reaction time could lead to earlier diagnosis and more effective treatment of mild traumatic brain injury, often referred to as a concussion.
This is your brain on God: Spiritual experiences activate brain reward circuits
Religious and spiritual experiences activate the brain reward circuits in much the same way as love, sex, gambling, drugs and music, report researchers at the University of Utah School of Medicine.
Brain scientists at TU Dresden examine brain networks during short-term task learning
'Practice makes perfect' is a common saying. We all have experienced that the initially effortful implementation of novel tasks is becoming rapidly easier and more fluent after only a few repetitions.
Balancing time & space in the brain: New model holds promise for predicting brain dynamics
A team of scientists has extended the balanced network model to provide deep and testable predictions linking brain circuits to brain activity.
New view of brain development: Striking differences between adult and newborn mouse brain
Spikes in neuronal activity in young mice do not spur corresponding boosts in blood flow -- a discovery that stands in stark contrast to the adult mouse brain.
Map of teenage brain provides evidence of link between antisocial behavior and brain development
The brains of teenagers with serious antisocial behavior problems differ significantly in structure to those of their peers, providing the clearest evidence to date that their behavior stems from changes in brain development in early life, according to new research led by the University of Cambridge and the University of Southampton, in collaboration with the University of Rome Tor Vergata in Italy.

Related Brain Reading:

Neuroscience: Exploring the Brain
by Mark F. Bear (Author), Barry W. Connors (Author), Michael A. Paradiso (Author)

Beautiful Brain: The Drawings of Santiago Ramon y Cajal
by Larry W. Swanson (Author), Eric Newman (Author), Alfonso Araque (Author), Janet M. Dubinsky (Author)

The Brain: The Story of You
by David Eagleman (Author)

Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain–for Life
by David Perlmutter (Author), Kristin Loberg (Contributor)

Switch On Your Brain: The Key to Peak Happiness, Thinking, and Health
by Dr. Caroline Leaf (Author)

The Brain's Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity
by Norman Doidge (Author)

The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind
by Daniel J. Siegel (Author), Tina Payne Bryson (Author)

Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students
by Zaretta L. Hammond (Author)

Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar--Your Brain's Silent Killers
by David Perlmutter (Author), Kristin Loberg (Contributor)

The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science
by Norman Doidge (Author)

Best Science Podcasts 2018

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2018. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Where Joy Hides
When we focus so much on achievement and success, it's easy to lose sight of joy. This hour, TED speakers search for joy in unexpected places, and explain why it's crucial to a fulfilling life. Speakers include inventor Simone Giertz, designer Ingrid Fetell Lee, journalist David Baron, and musician Meklit Hadero.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#500 500th Episode
This week we turn 500! To celebrate, we're taking the opportunity to go off format, talk about the journey through 500 episodes, and answer questions from our lovely listeners. Join hosts Bethany Brookshire and Rachelle Saunders as we talk through the show's history, how we've grown and changed, and what we love about the Science for the People. Here's to 500 more episodes!