Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Putting A Name To A Face May Be Key To Brain's Facial Expertise

Date:
June 17, 2009
Source:
Vanderbilt University
Summary:
Our tendency to see people and faces as individuals may explain why we are such experts at recognizing them, new research indicates. This approach can be learned and applied to other objects as well.

Left Image: At first glance this image looks like the actor Brad Pitt, because our brain processes faces holistically. But look at just the eyes in the figure, while ignoring the mouth. Are these the eyes of the actor Matt Damon? The answer is yes. Right Image: The "Ziggerins" created and used in the experiment. One group of research subjects learned to categorize the Ziggerins into groups that share a structure. The categories are shown here by rows.
Credit: Image courtesy of Vanderbilt University

Our tendency to see people and faces as individuals may explain why we are such experts at recognizing them, new research indicates. This approach can be learned and applied to other objects as well.

"This new research adds to the evidence that the brain processes faces differently because of our expertise with them. It also tells us what it is about our experience with faces that leads us to treat them holistically," Isabel Gauthier, associate professor of psychology at Vanderbilt University and one of the study's co-authors, said. "This knowledge may be useful in the development of training protocols for individuals with difficulties in face perception, such as individuals with autism spectrum disorders."

The research is currently in press at Psychological Science. Gauthier's co-authors are Alan Wong, who completed the study as his doctoral thesis in psychology at Vanderbilt, and Thomas Palmeri, associate professor of psychology. Wong is now an assistant professor at Chinese University of Hong Kong.

"Our findings suggest that facial expertise does not just develop with any type of experience," Wong said. "Learning to recognize a set of objects as individuals may work, but categorizing them at a more general level, or learning to manipulate them, would not. We develop different types of expertise in recognizing different objects not just due to their unique appearance, but also because of the types of experience we have had with them."

For decades, scientists have debated whether we are better able to recognize faces because we have evolved a brain system dedicated to this task or because we have extensive practice recognizing faces. Researchers agree that we recognize faces holistically, which is not how we generally recognize other objects. For example, we find it almost impossible to attend to only one part of a face and ignore the rest, while we might recognize a car by its grill, taillights or branding.

Prior research has shown that people can develop face-like expertise with novel objects, such as cars, and that once that expertise has been developed those objects are also processed holistically. But up until now it was unclear what it was about expertise that produced this holistic effect.

In the new study, Wong, Gauthier and Palmeri investigated this question by comparing two different types of training regimens with the same novel objects, called Ziggerins. The Ziggerins were created just for the experiment and have no real-world function.

One group learned to individuate these objects with unique names, much like we do with people and faces. Another group learned to very quickly categorize the objects based on shared structure. Each group became better than the other at the task on which it was trained, illustrating that different kinds of perceptual expertise can develop for the same objects. But, only the group that learned to individuate Ziggerins later processed novel Ziggerins holistically, like faces.

"This research indicates that not only is individuation key to our expertise with faces, but that this technique can be quickly applied to other objects," the authors said. "Hallmarks of face-like expertise do not require 10 years, or even 10 hours, of experience to emerge."

The research was supported by grants from the James S. McDonnell Foundation and the National Science Foundation and was conducted as a project of the National Science Foundation-funded Temporal Dynamics Learning Center.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Vanderbilt University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Vanderbilt University. "Putting A Name To A Face May Be Key To Brain's Facial Expertise." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 June 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090616164006.htm>.
Vanderbilt University. (2009, June 17). Putting A Name To A Face May Be Key To Brain's Facial Expertise. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090616164006.htm
Vanderbilt University. "Putting A Name To A Face May Be Key To Brain's Facial Expertise." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090616164006.htm (accessed April 25, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Friday, April 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Could Marijuana Use Lead To Serious Heart Problems?

Could Marijuana Use Lead To Serious Heart Problems?

Newsy (Apr. 24, 2014) A new study says marijuana use could lead to serious heart-related complications. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Study Says Most Crime Not Linked To Mental Illness

Study Says Most Crime Not Linked To Mental Illness

Newsy (Apr. 22, 2014) A new study finds most crimes committed by people with mental illness are not caused by symptoms of their illness or disorder. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
How Smaller Plates And Cutlery Could Make You Feel Fuller

How Smaller Plates And Cutlery Could Make You Feel Fuller

Newsy (Apr. 22, 2014) NBC's "Today" conducted an experiment to see if changing the size of plates and utensils affects the amount individuals eat. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Do We Get Nicer With Age?

Do We Get Nicer With Age?

Newsy (Apr. 22, 2014) A recent report claims personality can change over time as we age, and usually that means becoming nicer and more emotionally stable. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins