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WIREs Cogn Sci
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Neural mechanisms of face perception, their emergence over development, and their breakdown

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Face perception is probably the most developed visual perceptual skill in humans, most likely as a result of its unique evolutionary and social significance. Much recent research has converged to identify a host of relevant psychological mechanisms that support face recognition. In parallel, there has been substantial progress in uncovering the neural mechanisms that mediate rapid and accurate face perception, with specific emphasis on a broadly distributed neural circuit, comprised of multiple nodes whose joint activity supports face perception. This article focuses specifically on the neural underpinnings of face recognition, and reviews recent structural and functional imaging studies that elucidate the neural basis of this ability. In addition, the article covers some of the recent investigations that characterize the emergence of the neural basis of face recognition over the course of development, and explores the relationship between these changes and increasing behavioural competence. This paper also describes studies that characterize the nature of the breakdown of face recognition in individuals who are impaired in face recognition, either as a result of brain damage acquired at some point or as a result of the failure to master face recognition over the course of development. Finally, information regarding similarities between the neural circuits for face perception in humans and in nonhuman primates is briefly covered, as is the contribution of subcortical regions to face perception. WIREs Cogn Sci 2016, 7:247–263. doi: 10.1002/wcs.1388 This article is categorized under: Psychology > Brain Function and Dysfunction Psychology > Perception and Psychophysics Neuroscience > Behavior
(a) Examples of the stimuli used in the visual stimulation experiment. (b) Averaged activation maps for controls (left panel) and congenital prosopagnosia (CP). The activation maps are overlaid on a group‐averaged folded cortical mesh of each group and are presented in a lateral view (top row) and a ventral view (bottom row). The maps for the face activation were obtained by the contrast all faces>buildings (red to yellow colors). Note the similarity of the activation maps across groups in the core face network including bilateral OFA, LOS, FFA, and pSTS. This is in sharp contrast to the activation in anterior temporal cortex in the right hemisphere that is clearly evident in controls but is completely lacking in the CP map. Also shown is the building selective activation obtained from the contrast buildings>all faces (blue to green colors) in the PPA and TOS which is also very similar across groups. The two group maps and both contrasts are presented in the same statistical threshold. Ant. temp., anterior temporal cortex; OFA, occipital face area; FFA, fusiform face area; PPA, parahippocampal place area. (Reprinted with permission from Ref . Copyright 2014 Oxford University Press)
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Age‐related differences in the macro‐ and microstructural properties of the inferior longitudinal fasciculus (ILF). The volume of both the right (a) and left (e) ILF, as indexed by the mean cubic volume within the fasciculus, increased significantly with age. Similarly, the microstructural properties of the ILF exhibited age‐related differences, such that the MD and RD decreased significantly with age in both the right (b and c) and left (f and g) hemispheres. In contrast, the AD was stable across the age range (d and h). This pattern of results suggests that the right and left ILF are becoming increasingly more myelinated with age. (Reprinted with permission from Ref . Copyright 2013 Oxford University Press)
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Ventral stream category‐specific topography within each age group. Contrast maps for each object category (p < .05 corrected) from the group‐level random‐effects GLM mapped onto the ventral projection (a) and the lateral right hemisphere (b) of a single representative inflated brain in order to show consistency, or lack thereof, across the age groups in category‐selective activation. FFA, fusiform face area; OFA, occipital face area; STS, superior temporal sulcus; LO, lateral occipital object area; PPA, parahippocampal place area. (Reprinted with permission from Ref . Copyright 2007 John Wiley and Sons)
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A typical different‐eye trial in which the first image is presented to the left eye (left column) and the second image is presented to the right eye (right column). The middle column represents the participants’ fused perception. A ‘same’ response is required.
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A schematic depiction of the experimental apparatus and visual pathways from the eyes to the brain (shown in axial plane). Each monitor provided visual information to a different eye. The visual information first passes through monocularly segregated subcortical regions (left eye‐dashed lines right eye‐solid lines), which is then projected to the pulvinar, lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN), and superior colliculus en route to the striate and then binocular extrastriate regions. Note that we have excluded the amygdala from this schematic depiction as the focus is on face (and car and letter string) perception rather than on perception of facial emotional expression. For simplicity, we depict only the input from the contralateral eye to each superior colliculus.
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Activation maps and profiles in anterior temporal cortex and amygdala: (a) Activation maps in right anterior temporal cortex obtained for the contrast all faces>buildings; maps are projected on a horizontal slice. Robust activation can be seen in controls (left panel) in the right anterior temporal cortex, while only very weak activation is observed in congenital prosopagnosia (CP) when applying the same statistical threshold. Note that in the activation map shown in Figure (b), no activity is evident in this region at the group level in the CP. When examined individually, only three CP individuals exhibited activation in this region and contributed to the activation profile presented here. (b) Activation profiles obtained from anterior temporal cortex in controls (left) and CP (right). (c) Activation maps obtained in right amygdala for each group projected on a coronal slice. Given that the maps presented in Figure (b) only exhibit cortical activation, averaged activity of the amygdala could not be observed and it is therefore projected on a coronal slice for each group. (d) Activation profiles obtained from individually defined right amygdala in each participant in each group. Robust and comparable amygdala activation was found in both groups as evident from the activation maps and profiles. (Reprinted with permission from Ref . Copyright 2014)
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