An international team of researchers has discovered that a person’s ability to recognize faces increases as they get older, a recent study in the journal Science reports.
Neuroscientists have long believed that babies are born with more tissue than their brains need. Then, as they develop, the body gets rid of the excess parts. However, this recent research suggests that at least one part of the brain works in the opposite way and actually increases in complexity as a person moves into adulthood.
To understand this behavior, researchers analyzed the brains of 22 children between the ages of five and 12, and 25 adults between the ages of 22 and 28. They conducted a functional MRI and quantitative MRI scan on each subject and then tested how good each was at completing a number of face and place recognition tests.
The analysis revealed that adults have more structural complexity in certain parts of their brain than children, especially in places concerned with the ability to recognize faces. Older subjects also had more complexity in their brains’ supporting structure. This occurred specifically in the region that recognizes faces and was not present anywhere else.
“Children’s face recognition early on is very much tuned to adult faces,” said Suzy Scheft, an assistant professor of psychology at Penn State University, who was not involved in the research, according to NPR. “In adolescence, it changes to be highly tuned toward adolescent faces.”
These results are quite surprising and could alter the way scientists look at the brain, as well as shed light on how certain diseases like autism and schizophrenia develop.
“When I learned about the brain, we were told we were born with more than they need at birth and the tissue gets pruned away,” said lead author Jesse Gomez, a Stanford Ph.D. student in neuroscience, according to Gizmodo. “It was really surprising to see that what’s left is growing and impacts the brain’s function.”