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Face blindness stems from differences in neurocircuitry

14769-faces_newsA recent Stanford News article stopped me in the first paragraph with its line, "One in 50 people can't recognize faces." That's a huge number of people, including, somewhat disappointingly, Brad Pitt, whose face I would certainly recognize anywhere... These folks see eyes, a nose and a mouth — but they don't put it together into a coherent whole.

Now, Stanford researchers have discovered that's because their neurocircuitry is a bit different.

From the article:

The brain's regions for face recognition and space recognition each perform similar functions, and they are located near each other.

For people with normal face and space recognition, the brain's wiring for each region appears the same.

But in adults with face blindness, the wiring of the face-recognition region is different from the wiring of space-recognition center. Using that difference alone, researchers successfully predicted the presence of face blindness in adults who had previously been tested for the condition using only behavioral measures.

Stanford neuroscience graduate student Jesse Gomez helped solve the mystery by mastering a software model that shows how naturally occurring water in the brain moves through white matter. Axons, or the networking extensions of neurons, are sheathed in a substance called myelin, which is white. He found that a specific pattern of water movement predicts face blindness.

Next, he hopes to examine 5- to 11-year-old children to see how white matter changes during development, to figure out if a certain white-matter network will predict future face recognition ability.

Previously: In a human brain, knowing a face and naming it are separate worries, Metamorphosis: At the push of a button, a familiar face becomes a strange one and Image of the week: Oligodendrocyte
Photo by L.A. Cicero

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