Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Prosopagnosia is the neuropathological inability to recognize familiar people by their faces. It can occur in isolation or can coincide with recognition deficits for other nonface objects. Often, patients whose prosopagnosia is accompanied by object recognition difficulties have more trouble identifying certain categories of objects relative to others. In previous research, we demonstrated that objects that shared multiple visual features and were semantically close posed severe recognition difficulties for a patient with temporal lobe damage. We now demonstrate that this patient's face recognition is constrained by these same parameters. The prosopagnosic patient ELM had difficulties pairing faces to names when the faces shared visual features and the names were semantically related (e.g., Tonya Harding, Nancy Kerrigan, and Josée Chouinard— three ice skaters). He made tenfold fewer errors when the exact same faces were associated with semantically unrelated people (e.g., singer Celine Dion, actress Betty Grable, and First Lady Hillary Clinton). We conclude that prosopagnosia and co-occurring category-specific recognition problems both stem from difficulties disambiguating the stored representations of objects that share multiple visual features and refer to semantically close identities or concepts.