A tale of two recognition systems: implications of the fusiform face area and the visual word form area for lateralized object recognition models

Neuropsychologia. 2009 Jan;47(1):1-16. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2008.08.024. Epub 2008 Sep 2.


Two areas of current intense interest in the neuroimaging literature are that of the visual word form area (VWFA) and of the fusiform face area (FFA) and their roles in word and face perception, respectively. These two areas are of particular relevance to laterality research because visual word identification and face identification have long been shown to be especially lateralized to the left hemisphere and the right hemisphere, respectively. This review therefore seeks to evaluate their significance for the broader understanding of lateralization of object recognition. A multi-level model of lateralized object recognition is proposed based on a combination of behavioral and neuroimaging findings. Rather than seek to characterize hemispheric asymmetries according to a single principle (e.g., serial-parallel), it is suggested that current observations can be understood in terms of three asymmetric levels of processing, using the framework of the Janus model of hemispheric function. It is suggested that the left hemisphere represents features using an abstract-category code whereas the RH utilizes a specific-exemplar code. The relationships between these features are also coded asymmetrically, with the LH relying on associative co-occurrence values and the RH relying on spatial metrics. Finally, the LH controlled selection system focuses on isolating features and the RH focuses on conjoining features. It is suggested that each hemisphere utilizes efficient (apparently parallel) processing when stimuli are congruent with its preferred processing style and inefficient (apparently serial) processing when they are not, resulting in the typical left-lateralization for orthographic analysis and right-lateralization for face analysis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Face*
  • Functional Laterality / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological*
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Recognition, Psychology / physiology*