Photos of the faces of Angelina Jolie and Halle Berry were morphed together in a bioengineering experiment to determine how neurons react to ambiguous faces when individuals try to decipher identity.
"We are constantly bombarded with noisy and ambiguous sensory information and our brain is constantly making decisions based on such limited data," says Professor Rodrigo Quian Quiroga, director of the Centre for Systems Neuroscience and Head of Bioengineering at the University of Leicester in the U.K.
Using the morphed image, Dr. Quiroga and his team concluded that the neurons activate upon recognition of the faces rather than the visual stimulus of the features.
Looking at a face, he says, one recognizes consciously that it's the face of a friend, for example, but the process of identifying the individual features is sub-conscious.
The neurons the researchers observed in the study illustrated this point to perfection, according to Dr. Quiroga, who says they fired upon perception, not upon contemplation of the features.
Furthermore, he says, the experiment proves Aristotle was correct in saying that humans create images of the external world and seal them into memory more than they gather information from visual stimuli.
"This result supports the view that these neurons play a key role in the formation of memory," he says.
The paper was published in the journal Neuron.
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