Tag Archives: Fusiform face area

Surprising explanation for why face recognition matures unusually late in human development!

I didn’t expect to be reading this but I can recognize that this discovery seems to explain why face recognition is human cognitive ability that hits its peak surprisingly late in human development, and I’m now wondering how this fits into my theories about the relationship between my super-recognition and my synaesthesia, and that includes wondering how this discovery fits with my immune hypothesis of synaesthesia (which is all about pruning rather than proliferation), and of course I’m wondering how this fits in with what is known about super-recognizers. I guess I should just calm down and read the full text.

Coghlan, Andy Brain’s face recognition area grows much bigger as we get older. New Scientist. January 5th 2017.

Jesse Gomez, Michael A. Barnett, Vaidehi Natu, Aviv Mezer, Nicola Palomero-Gallagher, Kevin S. Weiner, Katrin Amunts, Karl Zilles, Kalanit Grill-Spector Microstructural proliferation in human cortex is coupled with the development of face processing. Science. January 6th 2017.



New developmental prosopagnosia research hot off the web

While I was looking at the website of the Journal of Neuroscience I found this interesting and important free access article:

Michael Lohse, Lucia Garrido, Jon Driver, Raymond J. Dolan, Bradley C. Duchaine, and Nicholas Furl Effective Connectivity from Early Visual Cortex to Posterior Occipitotemporal Face Areas Supports Face Selectivity and Predicts Developmental Prosopagnosia. Journal of Neuroscience. 30 March 2016, 36(13): 3821-3828; doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3621-15.2016


What is face selectivity? I’ll have to do a bit of study on that.

For me the findings of this study are not surprising, even though there are apparently new ideas in this paper about face selectivity and developmental prosopagnosia (DP). As a synaesthete who also appears to be a “super-recognizer” of faces from a family in which precociously high levels of literacy skills are found, I firmly believe that the common thread that runs through synaesthesia, literacy skills and face memory is good to exceptional connectivity inside the brain. My ideas are supported by research that has linked synaesthesia with hyper-connectivity, and has linked dyslexia and DP with problems with connectivity.

There is a tiny little face inside your brain (or at least there should be one)

Linda Henriksson, Marieke Mur, Nikolaus Kriegeskorte Faciotopy—A face-feature map with face-like topology in the human occipital face area. Cortex. Volume 72, Pages e1-e2, 1-178 (November 2015) p.156-167.



Thomson, Helen Your face is mapped on the surface of other people’s brains. New Scientist. January 19th 2016.



Your face is mapped on the surface of other people’s brains. New Scientist. Issue 3057 23 January 2016.



Volume 72, Pages e1-e2, 1-178 (November 2015)
The whole is greater than the sum of the parts Distributed circuits in visual cognition
Edited by Paolo Bartolomeo, Patrik Vuilleumier and Marlene Behrmann



Personification everywhere

I’ve been watching a repeat of the series Secrets of the Superbrands, a TV series about marketing of global mega-brands, and the host of the series was visiting a laboratory that creates flavourings and fragrances for super-brands. They spoke about creating flavourings that match the “personality” of the brand, citing a list of emotional attributes that can be embodied “serious”, “playful” etc. How is the different to the varieties of synaesthesia that personify concepts such as numbers and letters, or the varieties of synaesthesia that personify objects such as house plants, fruits and cutlery?

Later a researcher in South London, Prof. Gemma Calvert of the Neurosense Group, at the Centre for Neuroimaging Sciences, was shown doing a study with an MRI brain scanner, putting people into the scanner while they were shown photos of the faces of people in their immediate family, and also shown photos of the products, featuring familiar product logos and labelling and packaging design, that they are personally familiar with. Apparently the photos of faces and products triggered similar patterns of brain activation, activiating a “reward centre”, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, and also the face recognition areas at the back of the brain. This could be interpreted as evidence that advertising and marketing and brand packaging design produces the effect of personifiying products in ordinary people, so I think it follows that one does not need to be a personifying synaesthete to perceive objects as though they are faces or people. Perhaps personifying synaesthetes are more consciously aware of this effect, or perhaps we are more open to being manipulated in this way, but it shows that we aren’t really that special or different.

Another kind of super-recognizer moment?

Heaven knows why, but today the TV tuner was tuned to ABC3 and the TV show Life With Boys was on, a show for teens produced in Canada since 2011, and as I glanced at a few moments of the show I felt a sense of familiarity about the set which was used for that episode, and realized that it was quite similar to the set used for the American 1960s sitcom Bewitched. The sets for both shows are not identical, but have a similar feel and similar features. Both sets depicted cute wooden family homes both with stonework fireplaces filmed from an angle front-on and both sets have wood and glass front doors set into window-pane style frames, and to the right of the front doors both sets have a wooden staircase going up in a style that turns at right angles.

Knowing that face recognition and scene recognition are both done in the same or very close-by parts of the brain and both types of visual recognition appear to operate in very similar ways in my brain, I suspect that the many times that I’ve recognized complex visual similarities between real homes and between sets used for screen dramas might also count as “super-recognizer moments”.

The fusiform face area doesn’t just do faces

Tolga Çukur, Alexander G. Huth, Shinji Nishimoto and Jack L. Gallant

Functional Subdomains within Human FFA.

Journal of Neuroscience.

16 October 2013  33(42) p.16748-16766

doi: 10.1523/​JNEUROSCI.1259-13.2013


As I’ve pointed out before at this blog, I believe that my high ability in face memory is accompanied by higher than average ability in recognizing or remembering the appearance of other types of things, such as body parts, words, cars, plant species, colours and probably other things as well. What this means in practice is that I’m a pretty good speller, reader and writer, I’m great at remembering and recognize faces (even if I can’t always put a name to the face and I don’t always acknowledge that I’ve recognized a person), and I’m also very good at identifiying plants and skilled at categorizing them as weeds or wild native plants or exotic garden varieties, because I can be confident that I know exactly which species the plant is, based on recognizing the shapes and colours of plants. I also believe that high ability in visual memory for many categories of things runs in my family, and I offer this as an explanation for why extraordinary test results for literacy skills and also literacy-related careers seem to run in one lineage in my family. I contrast this genetic literacy gift with an opposite condition which I have also seen running in some families, in which people struggle to express themselves in print, write in a style that mimicks speech and not the writing of others, consistently spell in a way that looks like random phonetic guessing, and who appear to have no ability to remember the way that correctly-spelled words look. If the fusiform face area (FFA) in the fusiform gyrus in the brain is the place that “does” face visual memory and plant visual memory and word visual memory, then having a good one is a definite advantage in many ways.

The One Show from April this year – story about super-recognizers

The ubiquitous Dr Michael Mosley interviews super-recognizer policeman Gary Collins and super-recognition researcher Dr Josh Davis. Thank you Dr Davis, thank you BBC 1 Scotland and thank you YouTube.

Super-recognisers on The One Show (BBC1, 7PM), from 9th April 2013. http://youtu.be/PuPfQ8UZTGQ

YouTube channel of Dr Josh P. Davis:  http://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3rErlc6ayyZb1ROLvPQPtA?feature=watch

And another story on 60 Minutes about a major personal mystery which was solved by visual recognition and visual memory

Memories of the scenery of a long-ago journey, Google Earth, a very old photograph of a young boy and face recognition – these are the elements that found the solution to an impossible quest. Saroo Brierley’s amazing story of finding a lost mother within the incomprehensibly huge population and landmass of India is a demonstration of the incredible power and potential of the use of images as data in contemporary computer technology and the natural visual processing and visual memory capabilities of the human brain.

Lost and Found. 60 Minutes (Australia). June 21st 2013. http://sixtyminutes.ninemsn.com.au/article.aspx?id=8678261

Saroo was also a guest on Breakfast on ABC’s Radio National on June 25th 2013, interviewed with her usual skill and intelligence by Fran Kelly. Saroo is promoting his autobiography titled A Long Way Home.

Long Way Home: An extraordinary story. Breakfast. http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/breakfast/long-way-home-an-extraordinary-story/4777562

Don’t forget the parietal lobe – the connections are interesting

If you have been reading this blog for a long time you’d know I’ve been trying to figure out which parts of my brain are responsible for my synaesthesia and related experiences. I’ve found that the right fusiform gyrus is a part of the brain that comes up over and over again, in relation to synaesthesia and also face recognition I experience many types of synaesthesia and also have achieved scores in face recognition tests consistent with being a super-recognizer, so this combination seems significant, and despite a lack of any evidence from other case studies linking synaesthesia with superior ability in face recognition, I still think it is a possible relationship that should be scientifically investigated, especially in light of a pattern of associations which I believe suggests that synaesthesia might be a neuropsychological condition that could be seen as the opposite of Benson’s syndrome, which is a type of dementia that involves a loss of visual perception, apparently including a loss of face recognition ability. While synesthesia is generally an inborn developmental condition, and Benson’s or PCA a neurodegenerative condition with a typical onset late in life, I’ve still got to wonder whether inborn factors contribute towards Benson’s. While Benson’s is considered to be a variant of Alzheimer’s, I don’t think anyone knows why it causes deterioration in different areas of the brain as are affected by Alzheimer’s, apparently the same parts of the brain (at the rear) that appear to be enhanced or hyperactive in my brain, and I also doubt that anyone knows why Benson’s has an onset earlier than Alzheimer’s disease. I’m sceptical of the idea that Benson’s is just Alzheimer’s of the back-end of the brain. I suspect that immune system elements microglia and complement might be central to an explanation for Benson’s syndrome. Reading Dr B. Croisile’s paper about Benson’s I’m struck by the many very strange effects of Benson’s on perception, and I wonder at the ways in which a study of it might inform science about  the workings of the brain. I think it is at least as interesting as synaesthesia, which attracts a lot of attention from researchers. Apparently people with Benson’s cannot imitate movements. Does this mean that the mirror-neuron system which so many neuroscientists have gotten so excited about is located at the rear of the brain? I note that the inferior parietal cortex is one of the parts of the brain that are thought to house mirror neurons.

When I set out to write this post I had actually planned to write about a fairly recent review journal paper focusing on recent research about the most common and well-known types of synaesthesia: coloured hearing, coloured graphemes and time units in space synaesthesia. I really like the paper cited below by Professor Karsten Specht from the University of Bergen in Norway, and I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to learn about the latest knowledge about synaesthesia from just one paper. I only have a couple of gripes about he paper. I wouldn’t describe synaesthesia as “rare” as Specht does. Ward, Sagiv and Butterworth wrote in 2009 that around 12% of the population have number forms, and that estimate doesn’t surprise me. Synaesthesia in general can’t be rare if it includes one type that isn’t rare. Time-space synaesthesia or number forms is one type of synaesthesia which the synaesthete can have but not suspect that it is synesthesia, or anything out of the ordinary, so I’d guess it could be very much under-reported and under-estimated. My other gripe with Professor Specht’s paper is this bit; “In recent years, several studies have attempted to investigate whether synaesthesia is primarily a perceptual or conceptual phenomenon.” I think Specht is here presenting the reader with a false dichotomy. In some of the types of synaesthesia and related phenomena which I experience sensory perception, memory and conceptual thinking are connected with synaesthesthetic linkages, so I doubt that there is much point in trying to characterise synaesthesia as one or another type of phenomenon. I was very excited when I read the book Beyond Human Nature by philosopher Jesse Prinz. Professor Prinz argued that we think in mental images rather than in language. He wrote that “It used to be thought that the back part of the brain is used for perceiving and the front is used for thinking. But we now know that the back part of the brain, where most of the senses are located, is very active when people think. Moreover, we know that the front part of the brain does not work on its own, but rather coordinates and reactivates sensory patterns in the back. Recent evidence from Linda Chao and Alex Martin has shown that reading activates the same areas as looking at pictures, suggesting that we visualize what we read.” In a post that I wrote a while ago I described involuntarily “seeing” in my mind’s eye visual images of landscapes and building interiors from imagination and memory while listening to an autobiographical audio-book. I thought it was probably related to synaesthesia, but it appears that everyone’s brain illustrates text with images when reading. Perhaps synaesthetes do this to a greater degree or in a way that is more available to conscious awareness.

Anyway, back to Specht’s paper. Having read it I now suspect that the parts of my brain that are bigger or better connected or more active or something are: the right fusiform gyrus (including the FFA), the left parietal lobe including the left intraparietal sulcus, the right inferior parietal lobe, the hippocampus (I’m sure is involved with IMLM) and the parahippocampal gyrus. I’d guess that these are the places where interesting things are happening. It appears that the role of the parietal lobe in synaesthesia has been understated in the past. It is now thought that synaesthesia does not solely involve the cross-activation of two different sensory areas (as if it was ever that simple!), but it also requires a “binding” process to happen in the parietal lobe. There is no underestimating the importance of this binding.

If you are as interested in synaesthesia and bits of the brain as I am, you might also like to read a much longer journal paper by Rouw, Scholte and Colizoli that was published last year. It is available in full text at no cost, but I don’t think it covers non-colour types of synaesthesia. Details can be found below. One part of the parietal lobe mentioned in that paper, which is cited by a few studies as involved with synaesthesia is the inferior parietal lobule (IPL, Brodmann areas 39 and 40). It is also known as Geschwind’s territory because the neurologist Geschwind predicted in the 1960s that the parietal lobe played a role in language, and was proven right when the IPL was found to include a second connection between Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area, which are of central importance in language. The IPL is very interesting as a part of the brain involved in synaesthesia because according to a 2004 article in New Scientist magazine the IPL matures at a late age, between the ages of five and seven years, which just happens to be time in life when children typically learn the ability to read and write, and it is also the age range in which some children develop grapheme-colour synaesthesia. I find this very interesting because in my family we have at least three closely related grapheme-colour synaesthetes who are unusually high achievers in reading and writing in testing and academic achievement. Two of these synaesthetes were early readers and also talented at language learning. What’s the betting that some gene that alters the development of the IPL is behind this? The author of the most interesting little science magazine article that brought me this news, Alison Motluk, is herself a synaesthete. Is it just a coincidence that a journalist with a well-connected brain has pointed out a number of interestingly related facts that are connected around the conceptual hub of the inferior parietal lobule?

Specht, Karsten Synaesthesia: cross activations, high interconnectivity, and a parietal hub. Translational Neuroscience. Volume 3 Number 1 (2012), 15-21, DOI: 10.2478/s13380-012-0007-z

Croisile, Bernard Benson’s syndrome or Posterior Cortical Atrophy. Orphanet. September 2004. http://www.orpha.net/data/patho/GB/uk-Benson.pdf

Ward, Jamie, Sagiv, Noam and Butterworth, Brian The impact of visuo-spatial number forms on simple arithmetic. Cortex. Volume 45 Issue 10Pages 1261-1265 (November 2009). http://www.cortexjournal.net/article/S0010-9452(09)00213-5/abstract

Rouw, Romke, Scholte, H. Steven, Colizoli, Olympia Brain areas involved in synaesthesia: A review. Journal of Neuropsychology. Special Issue: Synaesthesia. September 2011 Volume 5 Issue 2 p.214-242. Article first published online: 16 SEP 2011 DOI: 10.1111/j.1748-6653.2011.02006.x  http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1748-6653.2011.02006.x/full

Motluk, Alison Two links good for kids’ language comphrehension. New Scientist. Issue 2478. December 18th 2004. p.12. http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg18424784.300-second-link-discovered-in-human-language-circuit.html

Just noticed article about prosopagnosia and face space in special edition of Discover magazine

At the newsagent the other day I noticed a special edition of Discover magazine “The Brain” with the date of Spring 2012. Inside it was an article about face recognition research done by Professor Marlene Behrmann of Carnegie Mellon University. I am pretty sure that it is the same interesting article that was first published in the January-February 2011 special issue of Discover. The article author Carl Zimmer explained the concept of the face space model of face memory and described a research study which found an interesting difference between an acquired prosopagnosic and some developmental cases and normal control subjects. The article can be read at the website of Discover magazine and can also be found in full-text through at least one of the press and magazine article online services that are offered through public libraries.

Carl Zimmer The brain: seeing the person behind the face. Discover. Jan-Feb 2011 special issue published online January 19, 2011. http://discovermagazine.com/2011/jan-feb/19-brain-seeing-person-behind-the-face

here’s another interesting article at Discover about face recognition

John Horgan Can a single cell recognize your face? Discover. June 2005 edition published online June  5, 2005.  http://discovermagazine.com/2005/jun/single-brain-cell

and here’s a YouTube video in which Dr Marlene Behrmann talks in a  interview about prosopagnosia and gives an authoritative explanationa of what it is. She seems to have a slight South African accent.

Peng, Cynthia Marlene Behrmann – prosopagnosia. goCognitive. uploaded Sep 25, 2011.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-z9PGrgPlYw&feature=related