Do I Know You from Somewhere?

Facial recognition is easy for some, but nearly impossible for others. New discoveries could help those with impairments learn this vital skill.

 |  Transcript [PDF]

Why are some people better at recognizing faces than others? Although we encounter faces every day, we know almost nothing about the science behind how we are able to recognize them.

Professor Allison Sekuler, Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience at McMaster University, and her research group in the Vision & Cognitive Neuroscience Lab study facial recognition using a variety of neuroimaging techniques like electroencephalography or EEG.

“We actually know almost nothing about how it is that we are able to recognize faces to tell who’s friend and who’s foe,” says Sekuler. “Although these are things we deal with every day, and so we think they are very simple, we don’t really understand the science behind them.”

Recently, they have made some discoveries that have helped them to understand one of the key elements that makes someone better at recognizing faces than others. They are hoping to use these discoveries to develop personalized training programs to make everyone good at facial recognition, or at least a bit better, because face perception is so critical to our everyday lives.

These training paradigms would also be extremely helpful to people on the autism spectrum or people who have brain disorders like perceptive agnosia that impair facial recognition.


UPDATE (July 22, 2019): Professor Sekuler is now Vice-President, Research, and the Sandra A. Rotman Chair at Baycrest Health Sciences. Baycrest specializes in research in brain health and aging, two areas where Sekuler contributes deep expertise.

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Allison Sekuler received her BA degree in Mathematics and Psychology from Pomona College in 1986. She completed her PhD at the University of California, Berkeley. She is currently professor in the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour at McMaster University.

Sekuler is a Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience and focuses on vision science and aging in her research. She was McMaster’s first Associate Vice-President (Research), and has served as Acting Vice-President for Research and International Affairs; Acting Associate Dean, Research and External Relations, Faculty of Science; and Associate Chair (Graduate Studies), Department of Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour.

As Associate Vice-President (Research), she crafted new programs for post-doctoral fellows, spearheaded the development of new undergraduate research initiatives, and facilitated interdisciplinary research programs, including innovative interactions bridging researchers across the arts, humanities, sciences and engineering.

She is also deeply committed to knowledge translation, and helped found several high profile public outreach programs at McMaster, such as Science in the City and the MACafe Scientifique.

Sekuler has won numerous national and international awards for research, teaching and leadership, while graduating and supervising PhD, Master’s, undergraduate students and post-doctoral fellows, and has served on and chaired provincial, federal and international grant review panels and external boards related to her research and to McMaster’s mission.

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