Face perception is mediated by a distributed cortical network

Alumit Ishai, Conny F Schmidt, Peter Boesiger
Brain Research Bulletin 2005 September 30, 67 (1): 87-93
The neural system associated with face perception in the human brain was investigated using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). In contrast to many studies that focused on discreet face-responsive regions, the objective of the current study was to demonstrate that regardless of stimulus format, emotional valence, or task demands, face perception evokes activation in a distributed cortical network. Subjects viewed various stimuli (line drawings of unfamiliar faces and photographs of unfamiliar, famous, and emotional faces) and their phase scrambled versions. A network of face-responsive regions was identified that included the inferior occipital gyrus, fusiform gyrus, superior temporal sulcus, hippocampus, amygdala, inferior frontal gyrus, and orbitofrontal cortex. Although bilateral activation was found in all regions, the response in the right hemisphere was stronger. This hemispheric asymmetry was manifested by larger and more significant clusters of activation and larger number of subjects who showed the effect. A region of interest analysis revealed that while all face stimuli evoked activation within all regions, viewing famous and emotional faces resulted in larger spatial extents of activation and higher amplitudes of the fMRI signal. These results indicate that a mere percept of a face is sufficient to localize activation within the distributed cortical network that mediates the visual analysis of facial identity and expression.

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