UT Dallas researchers discover link between dopamine and facial recognition

UT-Dallas researchers have found a link between dopamine and facial recognition.
UT-Dallas researchers have found a link between dopamine and facial recognition. | Courtesy of Shutterstock
A person’s ability to recognize faces is linked with the brain’s dopamine neurotransmitter system, according to a study recently published by researchers from the University of Texas at Dallas (UT Dallas), in conjunction with colleagues in Sweden.
 
“There is an intimate relationship between face recognition and the reward system,” UT Dallas Associate Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience and Cognitive Psychology Dr. Bart Rypma said. “For example, you can imagine that the more sensitive someone is to social rewards, the better they feel during social interactions with familiar faces. People who are better at recognizing faces are likely more socially outgoing than those who have greater trouble differentiating one face from another.”
 
Rypma and fellow UT Dallas researcher Dr. Nicholas Hubbard coauthored a paper on their findings, which was published in The Journal of Neuroscience. They used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) imaging to study the brain activity of individuals, with more activity per unit of dopamine showing better facial recognition.
 
“The findings suggest that the strength of the neural response to the amount of dopamine transmitted could be key to understanding why we remember some faces and forget others,” Hubbard said. “Establishing this empirical link between fusiform activity and dopamine binding, and linking these to a cognitive process that is highly relevant for survival in a social world, was a most exciting find.”

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