2001: Perrett


David Perrett, professor of psychology at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, was selected to receive the 2001 Golden Brain Award for demonstrating how cells in the temporal cortex--the primary place for visual memory in the brain—process information about the face.

"Over the past 15 years, David Perrett has brought us closer to understanding the circuitry of how the brain works," said the late Elwin Marg, executive director of the Minerva Foundation.

Perrett discussed his research in a seminar on "Interpreting Faces" at the University of California, Berkeley on April 18th in Minor Hall.  In addition to his physiological findings, Perrett touched upon his work exploring how people use facial cues to make social judgments.

Working with monkeys whose vision and brain systems function like those of humans, Perrett has shown that the brain integrates cues from highly specialized cells that respond to visual stimuli such as form, motion, color, and facial features. Using a process that builds a successively more complicated picture of facial structure and orientation, the brain ultimately extracts information that is important for social interaction, such as the direction of the gaze of the person being observed.

"We've found that cells in the temporal cortex are highly specialized for detecting faces and ignoring all other stimuli," Perrett said.  "My work has been to detect what information these cells provide--the identity of the face, where it is looking, what emotions it reveals. Faces are so important to us that we dedicate a lot of our brain to their processing. These processes have a deep survival value."

Perrett has also shown that memory and imagination play a part in processing visual cues in the temporal cortex.  With researcher Christopher Baker, Perrett demonstrated that cells sometimes continue to respond to the presence of people, even when the people are hidden from sight, as if "remembering" them until they re-emerge.

Perrett's research follows upon the work of previous Golden Brain Award winners like Semir Zeki of University College, London, and Rudiger von der Heydt, of The Johns Hopkins University, who elucidated how the brain detects basic visual cues.