'I' IS TO THE RIGHT
Next time you look in a mirror or at a photo of yourself, spare a moment to thank your right hemisphere. For it is in this part of the brain that recognition of our own faces —something that only we and the higher apes are capable of — seems to take place, Julian Paul Keenan and colleagues of Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts report in a Brief Communication this week [Nature, Vol. 409, No. 6818, 18 Jan 2001, p. 305].
Keenan's group studied patients who were having their brain hemispheres individually anaesthetized to investigate their epilepsy. The researchers showed patients photos of themselves 'morphed' to blend their faces with that of a famous person. Those whose right hemispheres had been anaesthetized afterwards recalled being shown a photo of the famous person during anaesthesia. If the left hemisphere had been anaesthetized the subject claimed that the photo was of himself or herself. The researchers also saw significant activity in the right hemispheres of healthy controls shown pictures containing elements of their own faces.
"It is conceivable that a right-hemisphere network gives rise to self-awareness which may be a hallmark of higher-order consciousness," the team concludes. A rare condition known as 'asomatopagnosia', in which patients deny or misidentify their own extremities, is also associated with damage to the right hemisphere.
Julian Paul Keenan
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(C) Nature press release.
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