JAN 29, 2019 09:34 AM PST

Seeing Faces in Strange Places: The Role of the Fusiform Gyrus

WRITTEN BY: Amy Loriaux

Have you ever had to say to someone "I'm so bad with names but I remember faces much better."? Well, it turns out the brain has a special region just for recognizing faces. A much-cited study from 1997 by Dr. Nancy Kanwisher, Ph.D. and colleagues from Harvard University describe the neural mechanisms for facial recognition and found that region of the brain: the fusiform gyrus (FG).

 

A diagram of the brain seen from the right side of the head (minus cerebellum). Front is on the right.

Photo Source: Wikipedia

Psychological studies had determined that study participants could recognize faces faster than other objects. For cognitive scientists, the faster the recognition, the faster the process. This can be easily demonstrated by the Stroop tests, which shows we read words faster than we identify colors. It appears to be the same with faces. Now enough physiological and imaging evidence has mounted to demonstrate the neuroanatomical characteristics of this phenomenon. Probably the greatest piece of evidence comes from new deep brain stimulation methods that show that when the FG is stimulated faces become distorted.  

This is due to the specialized area of the brain that processes faces as a top-down process. That is, the brain receives enough visual information to call something a face, and objects that resemble faces will just be seen as faces. The internet has created many memes for this if you'd like to see for yourself (warning: you will not be able to unsee these "faces").

Photo source: PixaBay.com

The relevancy of this brain area today is that dysfunctions in this region could contribute to several neurological diseases: such as autism and mild cognitive impairments (MCI) in the elderly. In terms of autism, in which patients have difficulty with social cues, deficits have been found in this area of the brain. EEG recordings have indicated that children with high-functioning autism may process emotional faces with a decrease in FG processing speed.

Elderly patients with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) may also be suffering from pathologies in this area too. A particular neurological deficit is atrophy of the medial temporal lobe, particularly in rhinal cortices. That is right below the FG. Decreased function of the FG and its surrounding regions may impair facial recognition and, furthermore, is correlated with the development of dementia.

Certain other sensory phenomena have been linked to the FG. Synaesthesia (mixing of perceptions), prosopagnosia ("face blindness"), dyslexia, and facial hallucinations have been proposed to have to do with altered FG processing. In fact, there is a high prevalence of prosopagnosia evident both in children and adults with autistic disorders.

Below is a video explaining the neuroanatomical areas involved in facial recognition: 

Video source: YouTube.com

Sources: Journal of Neuroscience, en.wikipedia.org - fusiform gyrus, math.unt.edu, BoredPanda.com, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, CNS Spectrums, Biological Behavioral Research, Science LetterThe Brain and Behavior: An Introduction to Behavioral Neuroanatomy, A Dictionary of Hallucinations, Neuropsychologia, Neuroimagewww.popsci.com

About the Author
  • I currently work at a small CRO involved in clinical trial management.
You May Also Like
OCT 18, 2019
Drug Discovery & Development
OCT 18, 2019
Does Microdosing Really Boost Productivity and Creativity?
Microdosing is the practice of ingesting very low doses of psychedelic substances, typically a twentieth of a recreational dose. In particular, Lysergic ac...
OCT 18, 2019
Genetics & Genomics
OCT 18, 2019
How Much Do Genes Influence Sexuality?
A recent study has shown that there is no sigular ‘gay gene’ (Boyd: 2019). Instead however, it seems that there are multiple genetic factors th...
OCT 18, 2019
Neuroscience
OCT 18, 2019
New MRI scan can reveal molecular changes in the brain
MRI scans give us pictures of the brain that depict the physical structure of brain tissue. Now, researchers discovered a way to determine the biological m...
OCT 18, 2019
Neuroscience
OCT 18, 2019
Neuroscientists create a stunning digital map of 1,000 neurons
Two years ago, Dr. Jayaram Chandrashekar and his colleagues at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Janelia Research Campus sought out to map the mouse brain as intricately as possible. Now,...
OCT 18, 2019
Genetics & Genomics
OCT 18, 2019
Can Autism be Diagnosed from Blood Tests?
Diagnosing Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) early on in life through behavioral signs alone has been difficult. This comes as typical markers for the conditi...
OCT 18, 2019
Cell & Molecular Biology
OCT 18, 2019
Does Consciousness Come Down to One Kind of Neuron?
Our consciousness might trace back to a simple neurological link between two neural circuits....
Loading Comments...