NYSCF Innovator Explores How the Brain Identifies Familiar Faces

NYSCF – Robertson Neuroscience Investigator Dr. Winrich Freiwald and a team of researchers at The Rockefeller University discovered important insights into the brain areas and processes behind facial recognition. By studying rhesus macaque monkeys, a type of primate with facial-processing systems similar to humans, the researchers have begun to unravel the mysteries behind how primates identify familiar faces versus unfamiliar ones. In addition, they extended their research into the question of different types of familiarity, for example, family versus well known celebrities. Both are familiar, but for different reasons.

Dr. Freiwald and his team discovered two previously unknown areas of the brain involved in face recognition. Published in Science, these brain areas are capable of integrating visual perception with different kinds of memory. Using functional MRI imaging while showing pictures to the monkeys, the research showed that the macaque brain face processing network responded with much more activity to images of close acquaintances, including activity in the two new regions, as compared to images of visually familiar faces (akin to monkey celebrities).

These surprising and exciting findings will allow the researchers to further investigate the neural mechanisms that underlie facial recognition, including how the brain responds to different kinds of familiarity.

Read the paper in Science

Read more from The Rockefeller University

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Neurobiology

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