Timing and tuning for familiarity of cortical responses to faces

PLoS One. 2013 Oct 9;8(10):e76100. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0076100. eCollection 2013.


Different kinds of known faces activate brain areas to dissimilar degrees. However, the tuning to type of knowledge, and the temporal course of activation, of each area have not been well characterized. Here we measured, with functional magnetic resonance imaging, brain activity elicited by unfamiliar, visually familiar, and personally-familiar faces. We assessed response amplitude and duration using flexible hemodynamic response functions, as well as the tuning to face type, of regions within the face processing system. Core face processing areas (occipital and fusiform face areas) responded to all types of faces with only small differences in amplitude and duration. In contrast, most areas of the extended face processing system (medial orbito-frontal, anterior and posterior cingulate) had weak responses to unfamiliar and visually-familiar faces, but were highly tuned and exhibited prolonged responses to personally-familiar faces. This indicates that the neural processing of different types of familiar faces not only differs in degree, but is probably mediated by qualitatively distinct mechanisms.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Face
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*

Grant support

The authors have no support or funding to report.