Neural response to the visual familiarity of faces

Brain Res Bull. 2006 Dec 11;71(1-3):76-82. doi: 10.1016/j.brainresbull.2006.08.003. Epub 2006 Aug 31.


Recognizing personally familiar faces is the result of a spatially distributed process that involves visual perceptual areas and areas that play a role in other cognitive and social functions, such as the anterior paracingulate cortex, the precuneus and the amygdala [M.I. Gobbini, E. Leibenluft, N. Santiago, J.V. Haxby, Social and emotional attachment in the neural representation of faces, Neuroimage 22 (2004) 1628-1635; M.I. Gobbini, J.V. Haxby, Neural systems for recognition of familiar faces, Neuropsychologia, in press; E. Leibenluft, M.I. Gobbini, T. Harrison, J.V. Haxby, Mothers' neural activation in response to pictures of their, and other, children, Biol. Psychiatry 56 (2004) 225-232]. In order to isolate the role of visual familiarity in face recognition, we used fMRI to measure the response to faces characterized by experimentally induced visual familiarity that carried no biographical information or emotional content. The fMRI results showed a stronger response in the precuneus to the visually familiar faces consistent with studies that implicate this region in the retrieval of information from long-term memory and imagery. Moreover, this finding supports the hypothesis of a key role for the precuneus in the acquisition of familiarity with faces [H. Kosaka, M. Omori, T. Iidaka, T. Murata, T. Shimoyama, T. Okada, N. Sadato, Y. Yonekura, Y. Wada, Neural substrates participating in acquisition of facial familiarity: an fMRI study, Neuroimage 20 (2003) 1734-1742]. By contrast, the visually familiar faces evoked a weaker response in the fusiform gyrus, which may reflect the development of a sparser encoding or a reduced attentional load when processing stimuli that are familiar. The visually familiar faces also evoked a weaker response in the amygdala, supporting the proposed role of this structure in mediating the guarded attitude when meeting someone new.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Evoked Potentials, Visual / physiology
  • Face / physiology*
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Nerve Net / anatomy & histology
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Parietal Lobe / anatomy & histology
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Temporal Lobe / anatomy & histology
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology
  • Visual Cortex / anatomy & histology
  • Visual Cortex / physiology
  • Visual Pathways / anatomy & histology
  • Visual Pathways / physiology*