Distributed neural systems for person perception
Immediate access to information about people that we encounter has an adaptive value. Face identity plays a central role in detection of in-group members and friends and plays a central role in determining our behavior when we approach others. I propose that visual appearance is only one component of successful recognition of familiar individuals. Other fundamental aspects include the retrieval of "person knowledge" - the representation of the personal traits, intentions, and outlook of someone we know - and the emotional response we experience when seeing a familiar individual. Specifically, I hypothesize that the "theory of mind" areas, which have been implicated in social and cognitive functions other than face perception, play an essential role in the spontaneous activation of person knowledge associated with the recognition of familiar individuals. I will present data that show also that personally familiar faces are detected preferentially in conditions of reduced attentional resources and without awareness. These results show that we learn to detect socially relevant stimuli in a facilitated way.