Taking Apart the Neural Machinery of Face Processing

September 8, 2014
Speaker: Winrich Freiwald, Assistant Professor, Laboratory of Neural Systems, Rockefeller University


Humans, like all primates, are intensely social beings. But primates are not only highly social, they also possess intricate abilities to understand their social environment. How does the brain mediate these remarkable abilities? Imaging work in humans and monkeys shows that regions within the temporal lobes are specialized to process social information. In my talk I will describe our efforts to understand the neural mechanisms of social perception and related cognitive processes, focusing on faces. The temporal lobes of macaque monkeys contain neural machinery to support face recognition. This machinery is organized in a way that allows us to dissect the neural mechanisms of face processing. It consists of a fixed number of discrete patches of face-selective cortex, which we can readily identify with functional magnetic resonance imaging. These face patches constitute face processing modules, concentrating cells encoding the same complex object category, yet multiple, spatially separate face patches exist, each with a unique functional specialization for faces, which are tightly interconnected to form a face-processing network. I will describe this network and how cells within this network encode faces. I will then discuss the implications these results have for information processing hierarchies and the functional organization of the primate brain.

Speaker Bio

Winrich FreiwaldDr. Freiwald, a native of Oldenburg, Germany, performed his graduate work at the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Frankfurt and received his Ph.D. from Tübingen University in 1998. He then joined the Institute for Brain Research at the University of Bremen as a research assistant. Starting in 2001, he worked as a postdoctoral fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School and the Hanse Institute for Advanced Study in Delmenhorst, Germany. He was head of the primate brain imaging group at the Centers for Advanced Imaging and Cognitive Sciences in Bremen from 2004 to 2008 and a visiting associate at the California Institute of Technology in 2009. He joined The Rockefeller University as assistant professor in 2009. Dr. Freiwald was named a Pew Scholar in 2010 and a McKnight Scholar in 2011; he also received an Esther and Joseph Klingenstein Fellowship in 2010, a Sinsheimer Scholarship in 2010 and an Irma T. Hirschl/Monique Weill-Caulier Trusts Research Award in 2009.

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