The ability to recognize faces is of utmost importance for individuals to function adaptively, and early deficits can be associated with social and interpersonal difficulties (e.g., autism, prosopagnosia). Behavioral studies show a protracted trajectory in the typical development of face processing. However, fMRI studies are needed to identify its underlying neural network. Behavioral studies show the importance of experience in the development of face recognition evident in children's superior recognition of own-race than other-race faces. The proposed research capitalizes on this phenomenon by using fMRI to examine the development of the face processing system and differential recruitment of neural networks as a function of face race. A handful of studies with adults suggest distinct brain networks recruited for own- and other-race faces. The mentored research is the first to examine the development of these networks. It examines developmental changes in the localization and functional activation and connectivity of implicated brain regions when processing own- and other-race faces. Functional and structural MRI data will be analyzed in relation to behavioral performance in face recognition to delineate the role of brain function from that of brain maturation. The specificity and neural synchronization of this network will be examined in younger children using EEG. The independent research examines the development of the neural mechanisms underlying the use of different facial cues critical for face perception. It also examines changes in face scanning and the emergence of a specialized neural network shaped by experimentally-induced experience with a novel category of face race to reveal i) how experience produces face scanning optimal to other-face recognition ii) how experience changes the composition and organization of a neural network in the process of acquiring expertise, and ii) how the path to neural network specialization might vary with age. The mentored and independent research will have important implications for i) children with deficits in face recognition, ii) the emergence of racial stereotypes and prejudices - and may point to targeted inventions to ameliorate such deficits and behaviors. The candidate currently uses behavioral, eyetracking, and ERP/EEG methods to examine the role of experience in the development of face processing expertise, and now seeks fMRI training. At UCSD, Dr. Haist is one of the few researchers in the world using fMRI to study the development of face perception. Dr. Richard Buxton is a leading expert in fMRI and has recently devised a novel means of quantifying BOLD measures that consider fluctuations in cerebral blood flow. Dr. Tzyy-Ping Jung is a leading expert in EEG methodology. The combined expertise of these mentors will ensure successful completion of the project and intensive training in the neurosciences for the candidate. UCSD offers state-of-the-art neuroimaging facilities, introductory and advanced fMRI courses, and seminars in developmental, cognitive, and fMRI research. Upon gaining fMRI and further ERP/EEG training, the candidate will take up a Research Scientist position at UCSD.
The proposed research project examining the typical development of a neural network specialized in processing facial identity will have important implications for children exhibiting early signs of deficits in face recognition (e.g., as in the cses of individuals with autism spectrum disorders and those with congenital prosopagnosia). Findings regarding differential processing of own- and other-race faces at the behavioral and neural levels may reveal important implications regarding the emergence of racial stereotypes and prejudices. Finally, findings pertaining to the impact of experience on the brain would have broad practical implications that may be useful for clinical and educational interventions involving behavioral training.