Learning faces as concepts improves face recognition by engaging the social brain network

Adva Shoham, Libi Kliger, Galit Yovel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Face recognition benefits from associating social information to faces during learning. This has been demonstrated by better recognition for faces that underwent social than perceptual evaluations. Two hypotheses were proposed to account for this effect. According to the feature-elaboration hypothesis, social evaluations encourage elaborated processing of perceptual information from faces. According to a social representation hypothesis, social evaluations convert faces from a perceptual representation to a socially meaningful representation of a person. To decide between these two hypotheses, we ran a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study in which we functionally localized the posterior face-selective brain areas and social processing brain areas. Participants watched video-clips of young adults and were asked to study them for a recognition test, while making either perceptual evaluations or social evaluations about them. During the fMRI scan, participants performed an old/new recognition test. Behavioural findings replicated better recognition for faces that underwent social then perceptual evaluations. fMRI results showed higher response during the recognition phase for the faces that were learned socially than perceptually, in the social-brain network but not in posterior face-selective network. These results support the social-representation hypothesis and highlight the important role that social processing mechanisms, rather than purely perceptual processes, play in face recognition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)290-299
Number of pages10
JournalSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2022


  • Face recognition
  • Face selective area
  • Level of processing
  • Social brain network
  • Trait inferences

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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