Neural correlates of personally familiar faces: parents, partner and own faces

Hum Brain Mapp. 2009 Jul;30(7):2008-20. doi: 10.1002/hbm.20646.


Investigations of the neural correlates of face recognition have typically used old/new paradigms where subjects learn to recognize new faces or identify famous faces. Familiar faces, however, include one's own face, partner's and parents' faces. Using event-related fMRI, we examined the neural correlates of these personally familiar faces. Ten participants were presented with photographs of own, partner, parents, famous and unfamiliar faces and responded to a distinct target. Whole brain, two regions of interest (fusiform gyrus and cingulate gyrus), and multiple linear regression analyses were conducted. Compared with baseline, all familiar faces activated the fusiform gyrus; own faces also activated occipital regions and the precuneus; partner faces activated similar areas, but in addition, the parahippocampal gyrus, middle superior temporal gyri and middle frontal gyrus. Compared with unfamiliar faces, only personally familiar faces activated the cingulate gyrus and the extent of activation varied with face category. Partner faces also activated the insula, amygdala and thalamus. Regions of interest analyses and laterality indices showed anatomical distinctions of processing the personally familiar faces within the fusiform and cingulate gyri. Famous faces were right lateralized whereas personally familiar faces, particularly partner and own faces, elicited bilateral activations. Regression analyses show experiential predictors modulated with neural activity related to own and partner faces. Thus, personally familiar faces activated the core visual areas and extended frontal regions, related to semantic and person knowledge and the extent and areas of activation varied with face type.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Body Image*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Face*
  • Famous Persons
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods
  • Linear Models
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Parents*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Recognition, Psychology / physiology*
  • Spouses*