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Face the Facts

November 25th, 2013 2 comments

We often forget many things in our lives.  We forget where we left our keys as we’re running out the door in the morning; we forget what we had for breakfast; and sometimes we even forget what day it is.  But one thing it seems we can always rely on is our ability to remember and discriminate between different faces.  Our ability to recognize faces takes place without us even realizing it.  It is something we take for granted because it is a very basic part of being a human being—recognizing the people in our world—our close family and friends who we see often, and even people we only encounter occasionally.

Because we are so good at recognizing faces, scientists have long wondered whether there are specific areas in the brain dedicated solely to facial recognition, or, rather, if there are more generic areas in the brain that recognize all things that we have a lot of experience with, and are in turn “experts” at (one such thing being faces).

But how do you even go about testing something like this?  It may seem easy, but it is actually quite a challenging and intriguing dilemma.  It may seem that all you would need to do would be to compare people’s ability to recognize faces with their ability to recognize other objects, but that would only answer half the question.  A difference in ability doesn’t give any insight into whether there is a specific area or process in the brain specialized to just faces.

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