FRIDAY, Oct. 5, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- The region of the brain that we use to recognize faces is also used for other forms of specialized visual recognition, such as auto experts' ability to identify cars, a new study finds.
The fusiform face area is a blueberry-sized region located in the temporal lobe of the brain. Previous research has shown that this area is activated when people look at faces. There has been ongoing debate about whether this region is also used to recognize commonly seen objects.
In this study, researchers from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., used MRI scans to record fusiform face area activity in the brains of automobile enthusiasts and found no evidence of a special section devoted exclusively to facial recognition. Instead, the fusiform face area of the auto experts had small, interspersed areas that responded strongly to photos of both faces and cars.
"We can't say that the same groups of neurons process both facial images and objects of expertise, but we have now mapped the area in enough detail to rule out the possibility of an area exclusively devoted to facial recognition," study author Rankin McGugin said in a university news release.
The study was published online Oct. 1 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The researchers suggest that the knowledge that the fusiform face area can support visual expertise for categories other than faces may help scientists improve treatments for people who have trouble recognizing faces, such as those with autism.
The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about autism.