Probably, at some point in our lives, we’ve had a distinct impression that we’ve met a person, but can’t remember his or her name. A new study from the Stanford University’s neuroscience department proves that our brain’s facial recognition skill improves with age, meaning we are capable of recognizing a person by his or her facial traits even when we fail to remember a name.
Traditional neuroscience stated that the human brain develops at a fast rate during early childhood, and slows down after we enter adulthood. While this is true for a lot of our higher brain functions, a new study from the Stanford University’s Neurosciences Department shows that the brain area associated with facial recognition becomes thicker and more efficient as we enter adulthood.
Jesse Gomez, a graduate in neurosciences, and the lead author of the study, declared that textbooks are somewhat barren when tackling what happens to the human brain after we reach the age of three years old.
Gomez’s decision of focusing on this period is not at all arbitrary. As the lead author explains, during this period occurs a phenomenon called synaptic pruning. In simpler terms, during this period, the human brain discards any non-productive synapses and strengthens others. The best analogy for this brain process is what a gardener does to strengthen the roots of a plant.
One of brain areas that benefits from synaptic pruning is the fusiform gyrus, a formation located in the Brodmann area 37 (between the occipital and the temporal lobes). The fusiform gyrus has various functions, ranging from processing of color information, word recognition to the within-category identification and, of course, facial recognition.
The brain area associated with facial recognition is not human-specific and can be found in some species of primates such as orangutans, bonobos, chimpanzees, and gorillas. As the Stanford scientists noted, the fusiform gyrus grows thicker and more complex when an individual enters adulthood.
They arrived at this conclusion after conduction deep brain MRI scans on 25 adults and 22 children. Gomez said that there is a good reason why the brain areas associated with facial recognition develops over time.
In infancy, an individual will only recognize a couple of familiar faces – most likely their parents, grandparents, and siblings. But as we grow older, the brain is faced with assimilating hundreds, if not thousands, of facial information. As unlikely as it would might seem, our brain is capable of recognizing thousands of faces.
Image source: Wikipedia