Neural mechanisms of face perception, their emergence over development, and their breakdown

Marlene Behrmann, K. Suzanne Scherf, Galia Avidan

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Face perception is probably the most developed visual perceptual skill in humans, most likely as a result of its unique evolutionary and social significance. Much recent research has converged to identify a host of relevant psychological mechanisms that support face recognition. In parallel, there has been substantial progress in uncovering the neural mechanisms that mediate rapid and accurate face perception, with specific emphasis on a broadly distributed neural circuit, comprised of multiple nodes whose joint activity supports face perception. This article focuses specifically on the neural underpinnings of face recognition, and reviews recent structural and functional imaging studies that elucidate the neural basis of this ability. In addition, the article covers some of the recent investigations that characterize the emergence of the neural basis of face recognition over the course of development, and explores the relationship between these changes and increasing behavioural competence. This paper also describes studies that characterize the nature of the breakdown of face recognition in individuals who are impaired in face recognition, either as a result of brain damage acquired at some point or as a result of the failure to master face recognition over the course of development. Finally, information regarding similarities between the neural circuits for face perception in humans and in nonhuman primates is briefly covered, as is the contribution of subcortical regions to face perception. WIREs Cogn Sci 2016, 7:247-263. doi: 10.1002/wcs.1388 For further resources related to this article, please visit the WIREs website.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)247-263
Number of pages17
JournalWiley interdisciplinary reviews. Cognitive science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Neuroscience
  • General Psychology


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