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Putting a name to a face may be key to brain's facial expertise
Date:6/16/2009

NASHVILLE, Tenn.--Our tendency to see people and faces as individuals may explain why we are such experts at recognizing them, new research indicates. This approach can be learned and applied to other objects as well.

"This new research adds to the evidence that the brain processes faces differently because of our expertise with them. It also tells us what it is about our experience with faces that leads us to treat them holistically," Isabel Gauthier, associate professor of psychology at Vanderbilt University and one of the study's co-authors, said. "This knowledge may be useful in the development of training protocols for individuals with difficulties in face perception, such as individuals with autism spectrum disorders."

The research is currently in press at Psychological Science. Gauthier's co-authors are Alan Wong, who completed the study as his doctoral thesis in psychology at Vanderbilt, and Thomas Palmeri, associate professor of psychology. Wong is now an assistant professor at Chinese University of Hong Kong.

"Our findings suggest that facial expertise does not just develop with any type of experience," Wong said. "Learning to recognize a set of objects as individuals may work, but categorizing them at a more general level, or learning to manipulate them, would not. We develop different types of expertise in recognizing different objects not just due to their unique appearance, but also because of the types of experience we have had with them."

For decades, scientists have debated whether we are better able to recognize faces because we have evolved a brain system dedicated to this task or because we have extensive practice recognizing faces. Researchers agree that we recognize faces holistically, which is not how we generally recognize other objects. For example, we find it almost impossible to attend to only one part of a face and ignore the rest, while we might recognize a car by its grill, taillights or b
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Contact: Melanie Moran
melanie.moran@vanderbilt.edu
615-322-7970
Vanderbilt University
Source:Eurekalert

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