Everyone sometimes has trouble recognizing faces, and it is even more common for people to have trouble remembering other people’s names. This is an everyday problem that many of us experience. This phenomenon is called prosopagnosia, which means that people often have difficulty recognizing other people that they have encountered many times. In extreme cases, prosopagnosics have trouble recognizing even those people that they spend the most time with, such as their spouses and their children. But where does this phenomenon originate in the brain?
A new study in the University of Bristol answers this question. The authors of this study say false memories affect everyone – even people with the best memories of all.
In the study, a team led by Dr. Clea Warburton and Dr. Gareth Barker in the University‘s School of Physiology and Pharmacology tested rats to see what happens in their brain when they see the same objects twice. Rats were placed into wooden arena and presented with two objects in the same positions as at acquisition: one object was the copy of the object used in the acquisition phase and the other was a novel object. All animals were allowed to explore both objects during a sample phase of 3 min, and the amount of exploration of each object was recorded by the experimenter.
After some delay researchers decided to use more objects which were placed in the corners of the arena.
The authors of study analyzed how much time rats needed to spend to explore two objects that had changed position and the two objects that were in the same location. This experiment showed what happened in the animals’ brain when they tried to recognize objects.
Thorough behavioral and statistical analysis showed that some brain regions have significant roles in memory processing. Firstly, researchers found that bilateral hippocampal brain area lesions had no effect on standard object recognition memory but was important to recognize object‘s location. It means that hippocampus plays a role in recognition memory when such memory involves remembering that a particular stimulus occurred in a particular place or when the memory contains a temporal or object recency component. Secondly, this study revealed that hippocampus brain area with perirhinal and medial prefrontal cortices are crucial components of a neural system, these areas support object-in-place memory and temporal/recency memory.
Obtaining a more detailed understanding of how the brain works in relation to the processing of such basic tasks as person recognition could be of benefit in many different areas. These findings are of interest for research on unusual neurological conditions, such as prosopagnosia and phonagnosia, which prevent people from being able to recognize others from their faces or voices. The new insights could also stimulate innovations in computer technology and improve person recognition by machines.