Human neural systems for face recognition and social communication

Biol Psychiatry. 2002 Jan 1;51(1):59-67. doi: 10.1016/s0006-3223(01)01330-0.


Face perception is mediated by a distributed neural system in humans that consists of multiple, bilateral regions. The functional organization of this system embodies a distinction between the representation of invariant aspects of faces, which is the basis for recognizing individuals, and the representation of changeable aspects, such as eye gaze, expression, and lip movement, which underlies the perception of information that facilitates social communication. The system also has a hierarchical organization. A core system, consisting of occipitotemporal regions in extrastriate visual cortex, mediates the visual analysis of faces. An extended system consists of regions from neural systems for other cognitive functions that can act in concert with the core system to extract meaning from faces. Of regions in the extended system for face perception, the amygdala plays a central role in processing the social relevance of information gleaned from faces, particularly when that information may signal a potential threat.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attention
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Communication*
  • Facial Expression*
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Recognition, Psychology*
  • Social Behavior*
  • Social Perception
  • Space Perception
  • Visual Perception / physiology*