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Brain. 2001 Apr;124(Pt 4):804-15.

The neural correlates of person familiarity. A functional magnetic resonance imaging study with clinical implications.

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Institut für Medizin, Forschungszentrum Jülich, Jülich, Germany.


Neural activity was measured in 10 healthy volunteers by functional MRI while they viewed familiar and unfamiliar faces and listened to familiar and unfamiliar voices. The familiar faces and voices were those of people personally known to the subjects; they were not people who are more widely famous in the media. Changes in neural activity associated with stimulus modality irrespective of familiarity were observed in modules previously demonstrated to be activated by faces (fusiform gyrus bilaterally) and voices (superior temporal gyrus bilaterally). Irrespective of stimulus modality, familiarity of faces and voices (relative to unfamiliar faces and voices) was associated with increased neural activity in the posterior cingulate cortex, including the retrosplenial cortex. Our results suggest that recognizing a person involves information flow from modality-specific modules in the temporal cortex to the retrosplenial cortex. The latter area has recently been implicated in episodic memory and emotional salience, and now seems to be a key area involved in assessing the familiarity of a person. We propose that disturbances in the information flow described may underlie neurological and psychiatric disorders of the recognition of familiar faces, voices and persons (prosopagnosia, phonagnosia and Capgras delusion, respectively).

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