Fusiform face area: vision, peas and spindles
What is it? Our brain has a complex system that processes visual information. The fusiform face area is part of that visual processing system and specialises in the recognition of people’s faces. Why is it needed? We often assume that people’s faces are very different from one another. But statistically, that is not so; by and large all our faces follow the same pattern — we all have common features, such as eyes, a nose, a mouth and ears, that are all in the same place. The facial differences that make every person that has ever lived unique are really very small indeed, which is why we need a special face recognition apparatus. Experts argue about the extent to which this area is specific to human face recognition, because research has shown it may be involved with processing other types of complex patterns. Where is it? It’s a pea-sized area in the brain’s temporal lobe, which is one of the four lobes that make up each brain hemisphere (side). We have one in each hemisphere, though it is often larger on the right. Why the name? Fusiform is from the Latin word fusus, meaning spindle. A spindle neuron is a special type of nerve cell. What can happen when it is damaged? Damage to this part of the brain can cause something called prosopagnosia, also called face blindness. People with this problem may rely on non-facial information such as hair, clothing and voice to distinguish between people, even close relatives.