Facial Recognition Portion of Human Brain Mapped by OSU Researchers

Researchers at The Ohio State University have pinpointed the area of the brain responsible for recognizing human facial expressions. It’s on the right side of the brain behind the ear, in a region called the posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS).

In a paper published today in the Journal of Neuroscience, the researchers report that they used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to identify a region of pSTS as the part of the brain activated when test subjects looked at images of people making different facial expressions.

Further, the researchers have discovered that neural patterns within the pSTS are specialized for recognizing movement in specific parts of the face. One pattern is tuned to detect a furrowed brow, another is tuned to detect the upturn of lips into a smile, and so on.

The team was able to create a machine learning algorithm that uses this brain activity to identify what facial expression a person is looking at based solely on the fMRI signal.

Using this fMRI data, the researchers developed a machine learning algorithm that has about a 60 percent success rate in decoding human facial expressions, regardless of the facial expression and regardless of the person viewing it.

The researchers will continue the work, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Alfred P Sloan Foundation.

Ohio State Research Teams Links Stress to Memory Loss

This is the first study of its kind to establish the relationship between short-term memory and prolonged stress. In the case of the mice, that meant repeat visits from a larger, nasty intruder mouse. Sustained stress erodes memory, and the immune system plays a key role in the cognitive impairment, according to a new study from researchers at The Ohio State University.

Mice that were repeatedly exposed to the aggressive intruder had a hard time recalling where the escape hole was in a maze they’d mastered prior to the stressful period.

They also had measurable changes in their brains, including evidence of inflammation brought on by the immune system’s response to the outside pressure. This was associated with the presence of immune cells, called macrophages, in the brain of the stressed mice.

The research team was able to pin the short-term memory loss on the inflammation, and on the immune system. Their work, which appears in The Journal of Neuroscience , builds on previous research substantiating the connections between chronic stress and lasting anxiety.

The work in mice could one day lead to treatment for repeated, long-term mental assault such as that sustained by bullying victims, soldiers and those who report to beastly bosses, the researchers say.

The researchers’ work was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Aging and the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.