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Trouble Recognizing Faces Could Be Genetic

Twin study sheds light on brain mechanism related to processing images

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 24 (HealthDay News) -- People who have trouble recognizing faces may be relieved to know that the problem may not be related to poor memory or eyesight, but could be in their genes, new research suggests.

The study included 164 identical twins (who share all of their genes) and 125 non-identical, same-sex twins (who share 50 percent of their genes). All of the study participants took part in a face memory test. Compared to non-identical twins, identical twins were twice as similar to each other in their ability to recognize faces, the researchers found.

The findings, published in this week's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show that shared genes, not shared family environment, are responsible for the strong similarity in identical twins.

"Face recognition is a skill that we depend on daily and considerable variability exists in the ability to recognize faces," study co-author Dr. Brad Duchaine, of the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London in the U.K., said in a university news release. "Our results show that genetic differences are responsible for the great majority of the difference in face recognition ability between people," he explained.

"We are excited about this finding because the brain mechanisms carrying out face recognition are fairly well understood, meaning that the high heritability of face recognition could provide a good opportunity to connect genes to brain mechanism and then to behavior," he added.

Duchaine and colleagues said they also found that the genetic-related processes involved in face recognition are linked to a specific mechanism in the brain that's unrelated to other processes such as the ability to recognize words or abstract art.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about the condition that prevents people from recognizing faces, called prosopagnosia.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: University College London, news release, Feb. 22, 2010

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