The two eyes resemble the headlights, and the smiling mouth looks like the radiator cowling. This is how our brain sometimes creates a face out of a car front. The same happens with other objects: in house facades, trees or stones - a "human face" can often be detected as well. Prof. Dr. Gyula Kovács from Friedrich Schiller University Jena (Germany) knows the reason why. "Faces are of tremendous importance for human beings," the neuroscientist explains. That's why in the course of the evolution our visual perception has specialized in the recognition of faces in particular. "This sometimes even goes as far as us recognizing faces when there are none at all."
Until now the researchers assumed that this phenomenon is an exception that can only be applied to faces. But, as Prof. Kovács and his colleague Mareike Grotheer were able to point out in a new study: these distinct adaptation mechanisms are not only restricted to the perception of faces. In the "The Journal of Neuroscience
" the Jena researchers have proved that the effect can also occur in the perception of letters. (DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5326-13.2014).
The basis for this is the neuronal plasticity of the brain, which allows us to adapt to environmental stimuli. "The more often we are exposed to a certain stimulus, the quicker we perceive it," Mareike Grotheer, doctoral candidate in Kovác's team says. This "training effect" could be measured directly in the brain. As magnetic resonance imaging shows, environmental stimuli which the brain has already adapted to, lead to distinctly lower responses in the processing areas. "This might sound paradoxical at first, but it only means that the brain arrives at the same result with less effort," Kovács p