Scientists just discovered long-sought-after ‘grandmother neurons’

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What happens in your brain when you recognize your grandmother? In the 1960s, some neuroscientists thought a single brain cell called the “grandmother neuron” would light up only at the sight of your grandmother’s face. Almost immediately, neuroscientists began to dismiss the theory — a single neuron could not correspond to one idea or person, they argued. 

More than 50 years later, new research in monkeys shows that “grandmother neurons” may exist after all. In a study published on July 1 in the journal Science, researchers found a small area of the monkey brain that responds only to familiar faces. Up to three times as many brain cells in this area responded to familiar faces than to unfamiliar ones. The study follows research showing that certain parts of the human brain respond to specific categories, including one region primarily dedicated to faces. One study even found that individual neurons in different parts of the brain responded only to specific celebrities and landmarks. But few studies had found any part of the brain that reacts specifically to personally familiar faces. 

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