Lateralization of face processing in the human brain

Proc Biol Sci. 2012 May 22;279(1735):2052-61. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2011.1784. Epub 2012 Jan 4.


Are visual face processing mechanisms the same in the left and right cerebral hemispheres? The possibility of such 'duplicated processing' seems puzzling in terms of neural resource usage, and we currently lack a precise characterization of the lateral differences in face processing. To address this need, we have undertaken a three-pronged approach. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we assessed cortical sensitivity to facial semblance, the modulatory effects of context and temporal response dynamics. Results on all three fronts revealed systematic hemispheric differences. We found that: (i) activation patterns in the left fusiform gyrus correlate with image-level face-semblance, while those in the right correlate with categorical face/non-face judgements. (ii) Context exerts significant excitatory/inhibitory influence in the left, but has limited effect on the right. (iii) Face-selectivity persists in the right even after activity on the left has returned to baseline. These results provide important clues regarding the functional architecture of face processing, suggesting that the left hemisphere is involved in processing 'low-level' face semblance, and perhaps is a precursor to categorical 'deep' analyses on the right.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Algorithms
  • Brain / physiology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Face*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual*
  • Photic Stimulation