All around our house I have half-read copies of New Scientist magazine lying about, some months old. I had put aside an August issue because there was a story in it about visual disorders that looked like it could have been interesting. I’ve recently found the time to read it, and I’ve read it again with my brain fully switched on, and it looks as though there is an interesting relationship between The Strange Phenomenon, a face-recognition related thing that I’ve described in the first post of this blog, and two competing scientific theories about object recognition. I’m no scientist, but from what I can grasp from the science magazine article, there is one theory about visual object recognition that “we flick through a mental catalogue of objects we have seen before-and preferably, a view of these objects from every vantage point-to try to find a best fit with the current image.” I think The Strange Phenomenon indicates that face recognition works in this way, at least in my brain. The Strange Phenomenon certainly, definitely seems to work on memories of faces that are like two-dimensional photographs rather than three-dimensional models of objects. The New Scientist article reports a study by researcher Marlene Behrmann from Carnegie Mellon University in the US that is consistent with a competing theory about object recognition, that it works by memorizing objects as constructions of generic building blocks, rather than storing memories of objects as “pictures” or “scenes”.
So, does this all put together indicate that face recognition works very differently than object recognition? Does face recognition work like one theory of object recognition, while object recognition actually works like the other theory? Do our brain modules specialized for object recognition and for face recognition work very differently? Is this why prosopagnosia can be a very specific disability? I’m just an educated housewife interpreting a report in a science magazine, so if you really want to know if this is a sensible interpretation of the research and the current theories of how our visual systems work, I strongly recommend that you go ask a person who actually works in a university.
It’s a pity the article discussed is behind a paywall on the New Scientist website.
Robson, David Seeing isn’t believing. New Scientist. August 28th 2010. Volume 207 Number 2775 p.30-33.
Robson, David The mind’s eye: How the brain sorts out what you see. New Scientist. August 30th 2010.