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Your brain recognizes faces even when you don’t notice

New research shows that our brain recognizes familiar images and faces even if we don’t consciously notice them ourselves.

A new study published the journal Current Biology examined how the same neurons that register when we see a face that we recognize also light up when presented with a familiar face we fail to notice.

The researchers found that the only real difference between the two was the strength and timing of the neural activity.

When we fail to notice a familiar face, the neural activity is weaker and delayed in comparison to when we are aware of the particular face or image.

Dubbed the “Roger Federer Cell” by the researchers, the study noted that the cell was active whether or not the person consciously recognized the familiar face of Roger Federer in a rapid succession of images presented.

Researchers from Germany conducted the study and gathered 21 neurosurgical patients who were being monitored, via electrodes in the brain, for epilepsy. The research team recorded the activity of 2,735 neurons in the patients and set up an experiment where the test participants were shown two images in quick succession.

The patients most often didn’t register the second familiar image in a succession of rapid pictures, even though it was identical to the first. But regardless of the patient’s reaction, the same neural activity registered when it was presented with similar images.

“Our study finds that a ‘Roger Federer cell’ can also become active when its owner fails to notice the image of Roger Federer rapidly flickering by in a stream of other images,” said Florian Mormann from the University of Bonn Medical Center in Germany.

This research shows that human consciousness is a much more complex phenomenon than previously thought, and sheds new light on the inner workings of our conscious awareness.  

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer

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