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Never Forget a Face? Thank Your Genes

Genes May Affect Recognition of Faces and Places, Study Shows

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on December 18, 2007
From the WebMD Archives

Dec. 18, 2007 -- Your genes may affect your ability to remember faces and places, new research shows.

The key findings:

  • People are better at remembering faces and places than objects or made-up words.
  • People's skill at recalling faces and places may be influenced by their genes.

That news comes from a study of identical twins (who have identical genes) and fraternal twins (who aren't genetically identical).

Each twin watched a series of faces, places (houses), objects (chairs), and pronounceable nonsense words (such as "banrat") flash onto a computer screen. They pressed a computer key if they saw the same image pop up twice. Meanwhile, their brains were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

The brain scans showed that during the test, brain activity patterns were more similar among identical twins than fraternal twins when the twins recalled faces and places, but not objects or made-up words.

"Genetics do play a crucial role" in remembering faces and places, write the University of Michigan's Thad Polk, PhD, and colleagues.

Evolution may have carved the ability to recognize faces and places into the genes, Polk's team suggests in The Journal of Neuroscience.

Show Sources

SOURCES: Polk, T. The Journal of Neuroscience, Dec. 19, 2007; vol 27: pp 13921-13925. News release, Society for Neuroscience.

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