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Facial-processing area of brain keeps growing throughout childhood

MRI scans suggest neural development involves more than just pruning

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2:19pm, January 5, 2017
fusiform gyrus

FACES AND PLACES  Researchers found changes in the brain tissue of children and adults in the fusiform gyrus, a facial recognition area shown in pink in this brain model. But the team didn’t see the same effect in the collateral sulcus (green), which is involved in recognizing places.

A part of the brain that’s responsible for recognizing faces seems to grow new tissue throughout childhood. That’s surprising, because brain development during childhood usually involves pruning back neural connections rather than growing new ones, researchers report in the Jan. 6 Science.

The research shows that “pruning isn’t the only game in town,” says Brad Duchaine, a psychologist at Dartmouth College who wasn’t part of the study. “I’m really excited about it.”

Researchers used magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, to identify regions of the brain’s visual cortex that showed more activity when processing faces versus regions that lit up when processing photos of places like cityscapes or hallways. Then the scientists compared the structures of those regions in 22 kids’ brains (ages 5 to 12) with those of 25 young adults

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