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Amygdala’s Lead Role in Facial Recognition Shows Social Link to Survival

Center for BrainHealth

New research from the Center for BrainHealth reveals that the amygdala may play a larger role in the brain’s ability to recognize faces than previously thought. Findings published in Neuropsychologia revealed that the amygdala was more face-specific than the fusiform face area (FAA), the area of the brain traditionally recognized as specialized for facial recognition. “These findings lead us to believe that the amygdala may be getting a 'preview' before the brain’s primary visual cortex sends the signal to the fusiform face area,” said Dr. Leanne R. Young, executive director, Brain Performance Institute at the Center for BrainHealth, led the team study. “The amygdala is associated with survival – fight or flight – it acts as a gateway regulating what we pay attention to. We would expect the amygdala to be activated in the presence of scary or threatening faces – something that our brain might perceive as potentially impeding our survival. However, we were surprised to find how active the amygdala is in the presence of emotionally neutral faces,” explained Dr. Dan Krawczyk, Center for BrainHealth deputy director and associate professor in the UT Dallas School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences. “This highlights the importance of social cognition, which includes the ability to recognize faces.  This process is key for our survival.”  

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