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Kathy Marshack News

How the Brain Encodes and Stores Facial Memories

Monday, July 31, 2017


Learn how your brain stores and encodes facial recognition so you’re able to recognize someone even if you haven’t seen each other for decades.You’ve been asked to identify a woman in a series of photographs. You haven’t seen her in years, but as a picture of a crowd flashes before your face, you exclaim, “Stop! Go back! I think I saw her!” Yes, you recognized her instantly. How is that possible?

There’s a fascinating article in the New York Times that sheds light on how the brain encodes and stores facial memories. Here are some of the highlights...

Two Caltech biologists, Le Chang and Doris Y. Tsao, experimented on macaque monkeys to see how the brain responds to facial images. (Their recognition system seems to be very similar to ours.) They found that:

● “The face recognition system consists of face cells grouped into patches of at least 10,000 each.

● There are six of these patches on each side of the brain, situated on the cortex, or surface, just behind the ear.

● When the image of a face hits the eye’s retina, it’s converted into electric signals.

● These signals pass through five or six sets of neurons and are processed at each stage before they reach the face cells.

● The face cells receive information about the shape, dimensions and features of a face.

● 50 such dimensions are required to identify a face.”

When a monkey looked at a face, the biologists were able to reconstruct the facial features, just by monitoring the pattern in which the monkey's face cells were firing. Take a look at the images in the New York Times article. It’s amazing how similar these reconstructed images are to the real ones.


The finding are, at this time unconfirmed in other labs. But this could be a monumental breakthrough. I’m excited to see if this will lead to new ways we can help those with ASD perceive facial expressions. That would be a fantastic discovery indeed!

If you’d like to learn more about how the autistic brain works, I provide online education specifically for families with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). My focus is on applying neuroscience and psychology to improve your relationships. And if you have specific issues you need help with, you might qualify for online therapy as well. Contact my office and schedule a session.



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