How does the brain recognize and respond to specific data—say, face recognition? Using fMRI imaging to watch the human brain at work, Nancy Kanwisher’s team has discovered cortical regions responsible for some surprisingly specific elements of cognition.

 Why you should listen:

Does the brain use specialized processors to solve complex problems, or does it rely instead on more general-purpose systems? This question has been at the crux of brain research for centuries. MIT researcher Nancy Kanwisher seeks to answer this question by discovering a “parts list” for the human mind and brain. “Understanding the nature of the human mind,” she says, “is arguably the greatest intellectual quest of all time.”

Who is she?

Nancy Kanwisher PhD is the Rosenblyth professor of cognitive neuroscience at MIT, and investigates why we have specialized cortical regions for some functions, but not for others.


  1. Per Kanwisher’s title, how is the brain like a Swiss Army knife?
  2. What is the difference between MRI and fMRI?
  3. What led researchers to believe there was a specialized region for face recognition? How was that verified?
  4. Who was one of the primary subjects in Kanwisher’s lab work?
  5. What are some of the illnesses that could be helped by this kind of brain research?
  6. Why is research important even beyond its use for medical cures?

A neural portrait of the human mind with Nancy Kanwisher


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