Last update: September 16, 2022
By BrainMatters


The Fusiform Face Area (FFA) is what enables us to recognise faces. When the FFA becomes damaged, people cannot recognise faces properly: this is called prosopagnosia. The FFA lies at the bottom of the temporal lobe.


The FFA is an area of the brain that is needed to recognise faces. A face has three different components that enable you to recognise it:

  1. Character features, for example eyes, nose and mouth.
  2. Overall picture, e.g. shape and hairline.
  3. General features, e.g. vertical and horizontal lines centred on eyes, mouth and nose.

The FFA reacts equally to all these characteristics. This is also the reason why in some pictures we see a face, while there is actually no face depicted.

People with autism sometimes have difficulty in having social relationships with others. Much research has been done to explain this, for example by looking at activity in the FFA. It turns out that in people with autism the FFA reacts just as strongly to objects as to faces. These people are therefore probably not very good at recognising faces and facial expressions. This makes it difficult for them to link people's characteristics to a face, making social interaction less obvious.


The FFA is located at the bottom of the brain, in the temporal lobe. The FFA on the right side is more developed than the FFA in the left hemisphere.


The FFA is not yet fully developed when you are born, although babies quickly recognise faces and enjoy looking at them more than anything else. During the first ten years of life your brain gets better and better at recognising familiar faces. This is probably due to the experiences you gain during these years.


In some people, the FFA becomes damaged and they develop an abnormality called Prosopagnosia. People with Prosopagnosia can no longer recognise faces, even if they are the faces of family members or very close friends. Sometimes people with Prosopagnosia cannot even recognise their own face in the mirror. In order to still know who is facing them, these people use other senses. For example, they can recognise others much more easily by their voice.

Author: Myrthe Princen (translated by Thomas von Rein)

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