Two nerve clusters in the brain are crucial for perceiving faces, a finding that could help treat people who suffer from face blindness and that could inform why some people have such good facial recognition. Like many other neurological studies, the research team was able to benefit from a patient’s desperate measures to treat his debilitating seizures. It wasn’t quite the man who mistook his wife for a hat–more a man who mistook his doctor for some other guy.
Ron Blackwell of Santa Clara, Calif., was at Stanford’s medical school for treatment when this study was performed. Researchers working with his doctors were able to stimulate his brain and totally distort his perception of faces. “You just turned into somebody else. Your face metamorphosed,” he said, surprised. You can see his reaction in the video below.
The brain centers are located in the fusiform gyrus, part of the temporal lobe. Back in 2010, Stanford associate professor of psychology Kalanit Grill-Spector discovered that this region contains two brain clusters, dubbed pFus and mFus, which respond more strongly to faces than to other visual stimuli–hands, legs, cars, guitars, etc. It plays a role in face blindness, clinically known as prosopagnosia. Oliver Sacks made it famous (he himself suffers from it), describing how patients just can’t tell faces apart.