Prof. Joseph Levine

Senior Psychiatrist




Session 6: Images who run our lives

By Prof. Levine & Dr. Salganik

As everybody knows, we experience the world through five senses. If we evaluate them according to the extent to which they transmit information to our brains, then, no doubt, in most cases the sense of sight will come first.

This sense can contain a good deal of information simultaneously while other senses, such as the sense of hearing contain fairly limited information at a given moment, and only a signal analysis along the time axis allows the transmission of a sufficient amount of information such as communication.

It is interesting to note that the sense of sight is probably more significantly developed in animals inhabiting the land such as mammals with relatively well-developed intelligence, elephants, humans and more. However there are a number of marine animals that also have developed intelligence such as dolphins and whales. In this regard is worth to mention that hypothetically, dolphins and whales were terrestrial animals before they turned to marine life and it is possible that it was on the land where they apparently developed their intelligent ability.

It was earlier hypothesized that the sense of sight developed more in terrestrial animals due to the transparency of the air compared to that of water, which allows the ability to identify same-sex and non-same-sex creatures and creatures that are a source of danger or a source of prey. This sense also allows for planning ability in a variety of situations such as, quick escape, hunting planning, orientation in space, and more. On the other hand, vision in water is limited to much shorter distances and that promoted the development of other senses such as sonar capability for example.

Image signal processing requires a well-developed brain system that allows a great deal of information to be analyzed in a fraction of a second. This rich visual information is translated within the brain into an elaborate system of images and characters.

Due to the fact that the human baby grows in the group belonging to the same species [the same is true for other mammals and even a variety of other species] and the baby has significant interactions with the care giving persons, who satisfy his needs, especially with the mother [caregivers comment on his needs and feelings and interpret the world around him]. People and their faces in particular have a specific representation in the human brain.

In this context, we would like to quote the words of Prof. Galit Yuval from the Tel Aviv University, who explains that "face recognition is a very basic function of the human brain", "we recognize familiar faces at a very early stage in our infancy, and learn to recognize and distinguish thousands of faces throughout our lives. , The difference between familiar and unfamiliar faces is very significant in the way we perceive the world. When we see a person's face, we process the image holistically: the various components – hair, nose shape, eyes, etc. – combine into one image, to which we immediately respond: Are these faces familiar? Is that a stranger? Beloved? Repelling? In an average person, this process occurs dozens of times a day, and so the brain practices identifying and distinguishing between people. "

תמונה שמכילה ציור קווים, אוסף תמונותהתיאור נוצר באופן אוטומטי

As a rule, facial recognition is performed in a specific part in the brain – the area of ​​the fusiform gyrus,a large spindle-shaped gyrus that spans across the basal surface of the temporal and occipital lobes of the cerebral hemispheres. We may ask: is the area of ​​the fusiform girus unique only to faces? And is its uniqueness to faces "inborn"? The fusiform girus area may be a visual area responsible for identifying any type of stimulus for which we specialize – stamps for the stamp collector and types of trees and plants for the forester. In this case, it seems that due to the importance of the visual images for human beings, this ability to recognize a face is essential and develops over the years, and thus the area of ​​the fusiform girus becomes specialized for face recognition.

Medial surface of left cerebral hemisphere. (Fusiform gyrus shown in orange)- (from wikipedia)

Due to the importance of the brain representation of the visual images of human beings it can perhaps also be assumed that they serve as a representative core at the brain level to which features and characteristics of the significant figures in human life are attached.

Below we will present some summaries in the context of the importance and role of facial recognition in the brain:

Let's start with the article by Grill-Spector and the other authors stating that facial perception is critical to proper social functioning. For example, faces provide key information that we use to distinguish one person from another on a daily basis. Facial perception is relevant in their view both ecologically and evolutionary in many species. A basic question is in their opinion, what neuro-anatomical and functional features of the human brain contribute to the visual perception and recognition of faces? To address this question, many influential theories concerning the cognitive brain sciences of facial perception have examined how different regions of the brain serve the representations proposed by classical facial perception theories in cognitive psychology. Such an approach has succeeded in identifying a network of functional areas in the human occipito-temporal lobes that specializes in facial processing. Indeed, many influential studies have functionally separated both ventral and dorsal components of this network.

The Functional Neuroanatomy of Human Face Perception:

Annu Rev Vis Sci. 2017 Sep 15; 3: 167–196.

Kalanit Grill-Spector,Kevin S. WeinerKendrick Kay, and Jesse Gomez

Interesting in the context of our subject is also the review article by Mijna Hudders-Allegra [2022] thar reported that human perception and gaze are specific to the context and include nerve processing from bottom to top and top to bottom (bottom-up processing is data-driven, and your perception of what it is that you're looking at directs your cognitive awareness of the object. In contrast, top-down processing basically uses your background knowledge, so uses your background knowledge to influence perception). This review summarizes the human perception and processing of facial and gaze signals. Face and gaze signals are important means of non-verbal social communication. The review emphasizes that: (1) there is some evidence to suggest that the perception and processing of face-related information begins even in the prenatal period; (2) Perception and processing of facial identity, expression and gaze are specific to the context. The influence of race and culture is also possible in this context. Culture influences through experience and social classification the way of how information about the face and gaze is collected and perceived; (3) Face and gaze processing takes place in what is called a 'social brain'. Evidence suggests that facial identity processing, emotional facial expression, and gaze include in the brain two parallel pathways that interact: a pathway in the cortex that is relatively rapid and coarse and a pathway in the cortex that is slower. The information flow is two-way and includes processing from the bottom up and from the top down.

The cortical networks in particular include the following structures: the fusiform gyrus, superior temporal sulcus or STS (sulcus separating the superior temporal girus from the middle temporal gyrus in the temporal lobe of the brain) ,intraparietal sulcus (located on the lateral surface of the parietal lobe), temporoparietal junction (the part of the brain where the temporal lobe and parietal lobe meet), and medial prefrontal cortex (is among those brain regions having the highest baseline metabolic activity at rest).

Mijna Hadders-Algra . Human face and gaze perception is highly context specific and involves bottom-up and top-down neural processing.
Neurosci Biobehav Rev  2022 Jan;132:304-323

One of the interesting questions is what happens in terms of the representation of other people in the minds of those who are blind from birth? These people never saw other people at all and experienced them only through other senses, like the acustic sense.

This issue was addressed by Fairhall and his colleages in their 2017 article. The authors note that recent evidence suggests that the function of the core system for facial perception in the brain may expand beyond visual facial perception to a broader role in human perception. To critically examine the broader role of the central face recognition system in human perception, these examined the role of the core system during the perception of other persons in seven birth-blind people and fifteen subjects with normal vision, by measuring their neural responses in fMRI while listening to voices and performing tasks to identify others' identities and feelings. The researchers hypothesized that in the blind who did not have a visual experience of faces, the core areas of the facial system may be given a role in the perception of others through sounds. The results showed that emotions transmitted by sounds can be deciphered in areas of the central facial system only in the blind from birth. Furthermore, there was some improvement in the response to verbal stimulation compared to non-verbal stimuli in the bilateral facial areas of the fusiform and right posterior superior temporal sulcus indicating that the core system also accommodates some language-related functions in the blind. These results suggest that in people without a history of visual experience, areas in the core system of facial perception in the brain may play a role in aspects of voice perception that are relevant to social cognition and perception of other’s emotions.

Neuroimage. 2017 Sep;158:126-135.

Plastic reorganization of neural systems for perception of others in the congenitally blind

S L Fairhall K B Porter C Bellucci M Mazzetti C Cipolli M I Gobbini 

It is also interesting in this context what happens to blind people from birth whose vision returns later.

Tapan and colleagues in their paper note that it is not known whether the ability to visually distinguish between faces and non-facial objects is associated with a critical period during development. Can a blind-born child born who acquires vision several years after birth be able to adopt such a skill? This question, the authors argue, has remained unanswered because of the rarity of cases with late acquisition of vision. However the authors had the opportunity to work with five birth-blind people who had acquired vision in their late childhood following bilateral cataract treatment. The authors examined their ability to diagnose such patterns as faces, using natural images that included a spectrum of face representations. The results show that people who have just acquired their vision are not yet being able to distinguish between faces and non-facial objects immediately after acquiring the vision, but improve considerably in subsequent months. These results demonstrate that there is some plasticity for the acquisition of facial / non-facial classification ability even later in life, and set the ground for further exploration of the neurobiological basis for the acquisition of this skill.

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2017 Jun 6;114(23):6139-6143.

Emergence of categorical face perception after extended early-onset blindness

Tapan K Gandhi Amy Kalia Singh Piyush Swami Suma Ganesh Pawan Sinha 

It is said that in the blind from birth parts of the cerebral visual system intended for visual processing change role for auditory processing and there is still representation of characters audibly and we further hypothesize that this nucleus is probably accompanied by features and characteristics of significant figures in human life. It also turns out that people who have just acquired their vision, are not yet able to distinguish between faces and non-facial objects immediately after acquiring the vision, but improve considerably in subsequent months. These results demonstrate that there is plasticity for the acquisition of facial / non-facial classification ability even at a later stage in life.

So the brain represents a variety of characters. Here the question arises what is the representation of characters which close to us, often dear to us? For example mom, dad, or a close friend.

Gang Wang and colleagues note that previous work has shown that close relationships lead to shared cognitive and neural representations of the self and of the mother of man in collectivistic people [such as those living in the collectivistic Chinese culture for example]. However, they point out that there is the question of whether close people, such as mother, father and best friend, are represented differently in the minds of collectivistic people. Here, using functional magnetic resonance imaging and trait judgment, they demonstrated evidence that while traits of the self and mother produced similar activity in the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) and anterior cingulate – ACC (the frontal part of the cingulate lobe hat resembles a "collar" surrounding the frontal part of the corpus collosum interconnecting both brain hemispheres) of Chinese adults, the mother trait judgments resulted in greater MPFC / ACC activity than parent and best friend trait judgments.

Their results suggest that while neural representations of self and mother overlap in MPFC / ACC, close people like mother, father, and best friend are unequally represented in MPFC / ACC of collectivistic minds.

Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2012 Feb; 7 (2): 222-9.

Neural representations of close others in collectivistic brains

Gang Wang, Lihua Mao, Yina Ma, Xuedong Yang, Jingqian Cao, Xi Liu, Jinzhao Wang, Xiaoying Wang, Shihui Han

Rebecca and colleagues argue in a 2010 paper that it is common to assume that representations of the self in the brain are dynamically influenced by the person’s environment, including the culture in which he or she lives. However, brain imaging studies of self-representations ignored before 2010 the cultural influences or treated culture as a country of origin. The study by Rebecca and colleagues used fMRI while participants rated adjectives of traits applicable to themselves and their mothers and judged their values. The findings indicated that a relationship of dependence and matching between self-trait judgment and mother’s is positively correlated with increased activation in the medial prefrontal cortex and posterior cortex. Which probably indicates to these researchers that such people incorporate social information in order to judge themselves.

Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 201 0 Jun;5(2-3):318-23.

Interdependent self-construal and neural representations of self and mother

Rebecca D Ray 1Amy L SheltonNick G HollonDavid MatsumotoCarl B FrankelJames J GrossJohn D E Gabrieli

This issue of the influence of culture on the psychological structure of the self is both interesting and intriguing.

Ying Zhu and colleagues write in their article that culture influences the psychological structure of the self and leads to two different types of self-representation (the Western independent self and the interdependent self in East Asia). And yet, the cerebral neural basis of intercultural interaction with the self must be better understood. These researchers used fMRI to measure brain activity of Western and Chinese subjects who judged adjectives of personal traits regarding the self, their mother, or a public person. The medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) and the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) showed stronger activation under self-judgment conditions compared to others for both Chinese and Western subjects. However, maternal judgments activated MPFCs in Chinese subjects with collectivistic culture but not in Western ones. The findings suggest that the Chinese use MPFCs to represent both the self and the mother while Westerners use MPFCs to represent the self alone, and provide brain imaging evidence that culture shapes the functional anatomy of self-representation.

Neuroimage. 2007 Feb 1;34(3):1310-6..

Neural basis of cultural influence on self-representation

Ying Zhu Li Zhang, Jin Fan, Shihui Han

We cited here some literature in the context of the cerebral representation of faces and characters in the brain.

We ask ourselves a number of questions. Is it true that we represent within ourselves groups, groups, subcultures and peoples as specific characters? For example, Putin today may represent the Russian aggression, Lincoln may represent the American spirit, Bar Kochba the aspiration for the revolt and independence of the people in the past history. In a previous conversation we also talked about a representation of a character we are building in ourselves to represent a subculture, for example, the “typical Israeli” or “sabra”. Here we brought some familiar examples but each of us apparently builds within himself characters representing particular persons, groups, cultures, subcultures and peoples.

In any case, it seems that the visual system usually plays a significant role in creating these characters. Though there is no clear answer to this question, at this stage we choose to assume that this is the case.

In this context, we argue that when we talk about different topics, directions of thought and more, we often address the issue through certain characters, real, historical, mythical, etc.

In fact it may be said that a significant part of our inner life and our psychological development revolve around characters and are represented by them including our self and its representations.

There also seems to be a connection between the characters in the outer world and those internalized in our virtual inner world. Here it is argued that these internalized characters help us in giving meaning to reality.

Sometimes when the connection between the external reality and the virtual inner world goes awry then the inner characters may in an extreme case be perceived as a reality whose we become captives. It can proceed as far as to a psychotic state. In another case, that of a closed group or even a state under a dictatorial regime, the involved group or people could create an internal virtual world around by all of them shared figures, resulting in the impaired reality judgment capacity.

Turning back to psychotherapy, we would like to emphasize that many psychological approaches focus to varying degrees on the actual interaction between the external and internalized characters in our inner world, while the reference to the characters themselves is only secondary.

RGFT on the other hand focuses mainly on the characters themselves and attributes each interaction to a specific internalized character. So the focus is on the internalized character and the entirety of its characteristics.

See you at the next conversation,

Dr. Igor Salganik & Prof. Joseph Levine

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