Research Topic

Face Processing: perspectives from cognitive science and psychopathology

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Introduction: The process of recognizing a face is quite complex. Like many visual stimuli, faces must be accurately recognized in any orientation or lighting condition, and even while moving and under less than optimal conditions (busy environment that forces top-down processing). Unlike other objects, faces ...

Introduction: The process of recognizing a face is quite complex. Like many visual stimuli, faces must be accurately recognized in any orientation or lighting condition, and even while moving and under less than optimal conditions (busy environment that forces top-down processing). Unlike other objects, faces are directly involved in communication, and our brains must be able to extract a tremendous amount of subtle detail from just a glance. While some of the issues involved in face recognition are the same as for recognizing any object, other issues are unique to faces. Specifically, detection and recognition of faces gives us essential context and semantic meaning about what is happening in our environment. Given the value of faces in our everyday interactions, an assumption is that the brain has special and specific mechanisms that provide rapid assessment of valenced faces. Face-specific neural processing is evidenced temporally (face specific ERP Components (N170 –structural encoding, N250 (familiar faces), N450 (semantic face processing) and spatially (fMRI (spatial): Fusiform Gyrus).

An interesting question that arises is that given the essential requirement of rapid face processing in our daily interactions, how is face processing impacted by desease? Do face processing deficits differ across desease populations? For this and many other reasons, face processing is among the most important research areas in cognitive science.

This topic will present research with 2 aims: a. to advance our knowledge of face processing from a cognitive science perspective (computational fast fourier spectra/Principal Component Analysis that link structural properties of visual
stimuli, such as faces, with multi-voxel patterns in the ventral stream as well as the use of various techniques (behavioural/fMRI/EEG) to explore face processing from attention-independent, early senory detection to attention-dependent, elaborate processing and b. because some samples consist of patient populations, a secondary aim is bringing forth evidence from special populations in face processing and new ways of thinking about face processing (e.g. cognitive biases for mood-congruent faces in mood disorders). Patient populations offer new ways of thinking of face science that have important implications for cognitive science as a field.

Debates and Issues brought forth by this topic: What compromises must be made for the brain to recognize faces quickly and accurately? And what does that indicate about how the human brain functions in general? What goes wrong in the brain in certain deseases that impairs face processing? What is the relationship between early sensory processing, higher-level perception, and cognitive processes such as attention under both automatic (online) and controlled (offline) processing conditions?


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