New study examines brain processes behind facial recognition

When you think you see a face in the clouds or in the moon, you may wonder why it never seems to be upside down.

It turns out the answer to this seemingly minor detail is that your has been wired not to.

Using tests of and (fMRI), Lars Strother and colleagues at The University of Western Ontario's world-renowned Centre for Brain & Mind recently measured activity in two regions of the brain well known for facial recognition and found they were highly sensitive to the orientation of people's faces.

The team had participants look at faces that had been camouflaged and either held upright or turned upside down. They found that right-side up faces were easier to see – and activated the face areas in the brain more strongly – thus demonstrating that our brains are specialized to understand this orientation.

The surprise came when they found this bias in brain activity also applies to pictures of animals.

Like faces, animals are biological visual forms that have a typical upright orientation. In the study, published in the current issue of the journal PLoS ONE, Strother and his colleagues propose that the human visual system allows us to see familiar objects – not just faces – more easily when viewed in the familiar upright orientation.

They also demonstrated this bias can be found in the neural activity of those brain areas involved with the most basic steps in visual processing, when visual inputs from the eyes first reach the brain.

In future research, the team hopes to chase down how this bias is set up in these early visual areas of the brain – and what this tells us about how brain circuits can be modified by knowledge and experience.

Provided by University of Western Ontario

not rated yet
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

How do we combine faces and voices?

Mar 09, 2011

Human social interactions are shaped by our ability to recognise people. Faces and voices are known to be some of the key features that enable us to identify individual people, and they are rich in information such as gender, ...

Face facts: People don't stand out in crowds

Jan 18, 2008

Why is it difficult to pick out even a familiar face in a crowd? We all experience this, but the phenomenon has been poorly understood until now. The results of a recent study may have implications for individuals with face-recognition ...

Recommended for you

Common infections tied to some stroke risk in kids

14 hours ago

A new study suggests that colds and other minor infections may temporarily increase stroke risk in children. The study found that the risk of stroke was increased only within a three-day period between a ...

Celebrities in 'Ice Bucket Challenge' to fight disease

Aug 20, 2014

Steven Spielberg, Justin Bieber and Bill Gates are among many celebrities pouring buckets of ice water over their heads and donating to fight Lou Gehrig's disease, in a fundraising effort that has gone viral.

Study helps explain why elderly have trouble sleeping

Aug 20, 2014

As people grow older, they often have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep, and tend to awaken too early in the morning. In individuals with Alzheimer's disease, this common and troubling symptom ...

Targeted brain training may help you multitask better

Aug 20, 2014

The area of the brain involved in multitasking and ways to train it have been identified by a research team at the IUGM Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal and the University of Montreal.

User comments