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Illusions: What's in a Face?

This is the ninth article in the Mind Matters series on the neuroscience behind visual illusions


Our brains are exquisitely tuned to perceive, recognize and remember faces. We can easily find a friend’s face among dozens or hundreds of unfamiliar faces in a busy street. We look at each other’s facial expressions for signs of appreciation and disapproval, love and contempt. We carefully select the images to go with our Facebook profiles. And even after we have corresponded or spoken on the phone with somebody for a long time, we are often relieved when we meet him or her in person and are able to put “a face to the name.”

The neurons responsible for our refined “face sense” lie in a brain region called the fusiform gyrus. Lesions or trauma to this brain area result in a rare neurological condition called prosopagnosia, or face blindness. Prosopagnostics fail to identify celebrities, close relatives, and even themselves in the mirror. But even those of us with normal face recognition skills are subject to many illusions and biases in face perception.

This month’s slide show focuses on face illusions and their neural bases.

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