Part 1: Prosapagnosia
Let’s start at the beginning with the importance of the human face. It is remarkable fact of human cognition that there is a localized structure in our brains dedicated to the recognition of the human face. We don’t have local structures for recognizing our houses, our cars, our pets, etc.; but faces in this regard are completely unique. The weight of this fact is evident when we look at how important a cognitive process must be to warrant local cerebral real estate dedicated to its function.
When we think of dedicated areas of the brain, we think of “the motor cortex”, “the visual cortex”, “the language centers”, etc.. Right along beside these hugely important areas is a local center called the fusiform gyrus that is dedicated to human face recognition. This local structure was first stumbled upon after diagnosing an unusual cognitive disfunction called prosapagnosia. This can occur when someone wakes after an accident or operation involving the brain, and they are completely cognitively normal with the one exception that they can no longer recognize human faces; not even their own! They can recognize their house, keys, car, dog, cat, even people when they see their whole body, but just not faces. This local area of our brains and this unusual cognitive impairment speak to how important it is for us as humans to perceive each others faces. Over the next few posts, I will talk about how this relates to smiles and how much smiling affects the people around us and our own internal sense of well-being.
Want more info on just how important our smiles are? Check out this amazing TED Talk from Ron Gutman on the hidden power of smiling.