Brain cells that are selectively tuned to identify gender and ethnicity have been found by scientists
Brain cells that are selectively tuned to identify gender and ethnicity have been found by scientists in an area not previously thought to be associated with the process of face recognition.
The finding could give new insights into why some people have a profound inability to recognise others because it reveals that more brain regions are involved than previously thought.
"When looking at a face, its gender and ethnicity tends to be the first thing we notice," says Ione Fine of the University of Southern California, who led the research, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
We become sensitive to these cues remarkably early in life.
"If you look at how pre-school children classify faces you find that these very young children pay attention to gender, ethnicity and age. In contrast, small children barely notice if a person is wearing glasses. We wanted to see what was happening in the brain."
As expected, they found responses within regions in the fusiform gyrus, a brain area previously associated with face processing. More surprisingly, however, strong responses were also found within the cingulate gyrus, an area not previously associated with face processing.
These selective brain regions also seemed to be sensitive to the cues of identity, suggesting that they may also be involved in recognising individuals.
Novel Brain Areas Associated With The Recognition Of Gender, Ethnicity And The Identity Of Faces