Independence of identity and expression? A look at facial processing in both healthy and patient populations

Recognizing facial expressions and identities plays a crucial role in daily life. People who have experienced damage to identity recognition regions of the brain due to stroke, trauma or other causes are unable to recognize the identity of faces, often including their own. People with damage to regions involved in expression recognition have difficulty interpreting expressions, which leads to social mistakes. Problems in expression recognition may have a role in autism and other social developmental disorders. Studies have suggested that specific brain regions are primarily involved in either facial identity recognition or facial expression recognition. However, recent studies, including research Christopher Fox has contributed to, suggest the two are not restricted to independent regions. Fox is designing a series of psychophysical tests to determine the extent of the overlap and using functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure brain activity in both healthy individuals and those who have experienced brain damage. Fox aims to determine whether an area of the brain previously thought of solely as an expression recognition region is also able to process facial identity. The research could lead to new therapies for people with facial recognition disorders. Fox was funded as a 2005 trainee award recipient for research on the role of the temporal lobes in vision and the process of visual perception.