The genius of recognizing a familiar face


July 16, 2021 – That flash of familiarity we feel when we see someone has fascinated and fascinated scientists for a long time, who have not been able to determine what is happening in the brain. But for the first time, researchers Report now A new class of cells they say is responsible.

This finding contradicts the prevailing understanding in neuroscience that diverse regions of brain They must communicate with each other to process information. Instead, this study shows that one area of ​​the brain appears to function with the sole purpose of identifying the people we know.

It was thought that a single brain cell – called a grandmother’s neuron, due to its ability to recognize familiar faces, such as a person’s grandmother – would be detected, but that hasn’t happened yet.

The problem is so entrenched in neuroscience that senior author Weinrich Freiwald, Ph.D., professor of neurosciences and behavior at Rockefeller University in New York City, says that when one scientist wants to ridicule another’s argument, they dismiss it as “just another grandma’s neuron,” or Unproven theory.

Now, in a mysterious and unstudied region of the brain, Freiwald says they’ve found the closest thing to a grandmother’s neuron in cells capable of linking facial perception to memory.

Granny cells

For their study, Freiwald and his colleagues recorded electrical signals from neurons in the brains of two rhesus monkeys while showing them images of their faces. Some people know, some people don’t.

The team showed that neurons in the lower front part of the brain, the temporal pole, play a role in identifying familiar faces and the ability to distinguish between known and new faces.

In fact, the neural responses were three times stronger for the faces of the people to whom the monkeys were personally familiar compared to the faces of those who did not know them, even if they had seen those faces multiple times on screens.

The researchers explained that this may indicate the importance of knowing someone personally. Given the tendency nowadays for virtual interaction, we must realize that the faces we saw on screen may not elicit the same neural activity as the faces we meet in person.

With this information, scientists can begin to investigate how these brain cells encode familiar faces. The researchers say they can now ask how this area connects to other parts of the brain and what happens when a new face appears.

WebMD Health News


Science: “A fast link between facial perception and memory at the temporal pole.”

Weinrich Freiwald, Ph.D., Professor of Neurosciences and Behavior, Rockefeller University, New York City.

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