Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Face Off

By Tim Hannan

Do motoring enthusiasts recognise cars in the same way people recognise faces?

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

A recent investigation by a team of cognitive neuroscientists from Vanderbilt University, Tennessee, has challenged long-held assumptions about the visual perceptual systems involved in face and object recognition.

It has been widely accepted that the ability to recognise faces involves the function of a highly specialised cognitive system located in the fusiform gyrus, which extends across the occipital and temporal lobes. This face recognition system is presumed to be damaged in cases of the developmental or acquired condition termed prosopagnosia, in which a person experiences a marked deficiency in recognising and discriminating others’ faces yet retains the ability to recognise other objects, such as chairs, dogs and cars. The existence of separate systems for face processing and object recognition has been supported by neuroimaging research, which has demonstrated that part of the fusiform gyrus in the temporal lobe – labelled the fusiform face area (FFA) – is activated by faces but not by other objects.

The assumption that face processing relies on a genetically determined system with, as one researcher expressed it, “its own private piece of real estate in the brain”, has now been put under the microscope by Rankin McGugin, Isabel Gauthier and their colleagues at Vanderbilt University. In the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences they...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.