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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

October 2005, Vol. 17, No. 10, Pages 1652-1666
(doi: 10.1162/089892905774597254)
© 2005 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Does Prosopagnosia Take the Eyes Out of Face Representations? Evidence for a Defect in Representing Diagnostic Facial Information following Brain Damage
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One of the most impressive disorders following brain damage to the ventral occipitotemporal cortex is prosopagnosia, or the inability to recognize faces. Although acquired prosopagnosia with preserved general visual and memory functions is rare, several cases have been described in the neuropsychological literature and studied at the functional and neural level over the last decades. Here we tested a brain-damaged patient (PS) presenting a deficit restricted to the category of faces to clarify the nature of the missing and preserved components of the face processing system when it is selectively damaged. Following learning to identify 10 neutral and happy faces through extensive training, we investigated patient PS's recognition of faces using Bubbles, a response classification technique that sampled facial information across the faces in different bandwidths of spatial frequencies [Gosselin, F., & Schyns, P. E., Bubbles: A technique to reveal the use of information in recognition tasks. Vision Research, 41, 2261-2271, 2001]. Although PS gradually used less information (i.e., the number of bubbles) to identify faces over testing, the total information required was much larger than for normal controls and decreased less steeply with practice. Most importantly, the facial information used to identify individual faces differed between PS and controls. Specifically, in marked contrast to controls, PS did not use the optimal eye information to identify familiar faces, but instead the lower part of the face, including the mouth and the external contours, as normal observers typically do when processing unfamiliar faces. Together, the findings reported here suggest that damage to the face processing system is characterized by an inability to use the information that is optimal to judge identity, focusing instead on suboptimal information.