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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

Fall 1997, Vol. 9, No. 5, Pages 555-604
(doi: 10.1162/jocn.1997.9.5.555)
© 1997 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
What Is Special about Face Recognition? Nineteen Experiments on a Person with Visual Object Agnosia and Dyslexia but Normal Face Recognition
Article PDF (9.37 MB)

In order to study face recognition in relative isolation from visual processes that may also contribute to object recognition and reading, we investigated CK, a man with normal face recognition but with object agnosia and dyslexia caused by a closed-head injury. We administered recognition tests of up right faces, of family resemblance, of age-transformed faces, of caricatures, of cartoons, of inverted faces, and of face features, of disguised faces, of perceptually degraded faces, of fractured faces, of faces parts, and of faces whose parts were made of objects. We compared CK's performance with that of at least 12 control participants. We found that CK performed as well as controls as long as the face was upright and retained the configurational integrity among the internal facial features, the eyes, nose, and mouth. This held regardless of whether the face was disguised or degraded and whether the face was represented as a photo, a caricature, a cartoon, or a face composed of objects. In the last case, CK perceived the face but, unlike controls, was rarely aware that it was composed of objects. When the face, or just the internal features, were inverted or when the configurational gestalt was broken by fracturing the face or misaligning the top and bottom halves, CK's performance suffered far more than that of controls. We conclude that face recognition normally depends on two systems: (1) a holistic, face-specific system that is dependent on orientationspecific coding of second-order relational features (internal), which is intact in CK and (2) a part-based object-recognition system, which is damaged in CK and which contributes to face recognition when the face stimulus does not satisfy the domain-specific conditions needed to activate the face system.