Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
We document a seemingly unique case of severe prosopagnosia, L. R., who suffered damage to his anterior and inferior right temporal lobe as a result of a motor vehicle accident. We systematically investigated each of three factors associated with expert face recognition: fine-level discrimination, holistic processing, and configural processing (Experiments 1-3). Surprisingly, L. R. shows preservation of all three of these processes; that is, his performance in these experiments is comparable to that of normal controls. However, L. R. is only able to apply these processes over a limited spatial extent to the fine-level detail within faces. Thus, when the location of a given change is unpredictable (Experiment 3), L. R. exhibits normal detection of features and spatial configurations only for the lower half of each face. Similarly, when required to divide his attention over multiple face features, L. R. is able to determine the identity of only a single feature (Experiment 4). We discuss these results in the context of forming a better understanding of prosopagnosia and the mechanisms used in face recognition and visual expertise. We conclude that these mechanisms are not “all-or-none”, but rather can be impaired incrementally, such that they may remain functional over a restricted spatial area. This conclusion is consistent with previous research suggesting that perceptual expertise is acquired in a spatially incremental manner [Gauthier, I., & Tarr, M. J. Unraveling mechanisms for expert object recognition: Bridging brain activity and behavior. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception & Performance, 28, 431-446, 2002].