AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 26, Number 4, 2017

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Researchers Examine How Faces Represent a Whole Person in the Brain

The sight of a face gives the human brain information about emotions, intent and the identities of other individuals. However, the same is not true for the rest of the body, which offers only a small amount of social information through posture. Now a brain imaging study conducted at Rockefeller University offers some insight into how faces achieve this special status and found that certain spots in the brain are dedicated to processing faces in the primate brain. The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was conducted in rhesus macaque monkeys. During the study, researchers showed the macaques still images that either displayed the face of a fellow macaque alone, the body without a face, or the entire animal. Using high-resolution brain activity scans, researchers recorded how each of the six macaque monkeys responded to facial patches, located in the superior temporal sulcus (STS). This approach was intended to reveal if a patch reacted strictly to faces or to bodies as well, or if a patch preferred a face and body together, more than the sum of both presented separately. The results showed that two of the four face patches, one in particular, showed evidence of a superadditive response — which exceeds those prompted by an individual face and body combined. This interaction is important because it suggests the brain is no longer just receiving information from the eyes, but beginning to make sense of it. When researchers replaced the macaque bodies with images of other objects, the result suggested the two patches were responding specifically to bodies, not just any object. To read more about this study, click here.

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