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Now researchers at The Rockefeller University have begun to unravel the mystery of how the brain recognizes familiar faces. Working with rhesus macaque monkeys -- primates whose face-processing systems closely resemble our own -- Winrich Freiwald, head of the Laboratory of Neural Systems, and Sofia Landi, a graduate student in the lab, discovered two previously unknown areas of the brain involved in face recognition: areas capable of integrating visual perception with different kinds of memory. Their findings were reported today in Science.
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Scientists - Brain - Network - Areas - Kinds
Scientists have long known that the brain contains a network of areas that respond selectively to faces as opposed to other kinds of objects (feet, cars, smartphones). They also knew that humans process familiar and unfamiliar faces very differently. For example, we excel at recognizing pictures of familiar faces even when they are disguised by poor lighting or shot at odd angles. But we struggle to recognize even slightly altered images of the same face when it is unfamiliar to us: two pictures of a stranger we've never seen before, for instance, shown from different perspectives or in dim light.
Yet attempts at divining the neural basis for these differences between familiar and unfamiliar face perception in humans have proven inconclusive. So Freiwald and Landi turned instead to macaques, close evolutionary cousins whose face processing networks are better understood and more easily studied than our own.
Researchers - Face - Processing - Network - Way
The researchers expected the macaque face processing network to respond in much the same way to the first two types of faces. But instead, the entire system showed more activity in response to the faces of long-time acquaintances. Faces that were only visually familiar, meanwhile, actually caused a reduction of activity in some areas.
"The whole network somehow distinguishes personally familiar faces from visually familiar faces," says Landi.
Even more surprisingly,...
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