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Study explains how car fans recognize their loves

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Ever since cars were invented, women have complained that their husbands recognize the latest Ford more quickly than they do their in-laws. A study published Sunday may help explain why.

It seems that men who like cars recognize the different models using the same part of the brain that people use to identify faces, U.S. researchers report in the April issue of the journal Nature Neuroscience.

When car aficionados were shown pictures of cars and pictures of faces together, they tended to get a kind of traffic jam in the part of the brain normally used to identify faces, psychologist Isabel Gauthier of Vanderbilt University in Tennessee reported.

Working with Tim Curran, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Colorado, and other colleagues, Gauthier tested 40 men -- 20 car lovers and 20 car novices.

They tested the car experts to make sure they were indeed skilled at identifying cars.

Then they showed all 40 men alternating sequences of faces and cars and asked them to compare each car to the previous car they saw and each face to the previous face they saw.

Using special techniques, they were able to see how the men were processing the images -- holistically or piecemeal.

Men with the most car-savvy recognized the cars in a holistic fashion, but could not recognize faces as well.

Men who knew little about cars used the piecemeal approach to identify the cars and had no problems identifying faces, Gauthier's team found.

A big difference was seen in electrophysiological measurements of a brain wave called N170, which has been associated with facial recognition.

And car recognition activity could be traced to the right hemisphere of the brain -- where the facial recognition area, known as the fusiform face area, is also found.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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