Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
The set size effect during visual search indexes the effects of processing load and thus the efficiency of perceptual mechanisms. Our goal was to investigate whether individuals with developmental prosopagnosia show increased set size effects when searching faces for face identity and how this compares to search for face expression. We tested 29 healthy individuals and 13 individuals with developmental prosopagnosia. Participants were shown sets of three to seven faces to judge whether the identities or expressions of the faces were the same across all stimuli or if one differed. The set size effect was the slope of the linear regression between the number of faces in the array and the response time. Accuracy was similar in both controls and prosopagnosic participants. Developmental prosopagnosic participants displayed increased set size effects in face identity search but not in expression search. Single-participant analyses reveal that 11 developmental prosopagnosic participants showed a putative classical dissociation, with impairments in identity but not expression search. Signal detection theory analysis showed that identity set size effects were highly reliable in discriminating prosopagnosic participants from controls. Finally, the set size ratios of same to different trials were consistent with the predictions of self-terminated serial search models for control participants and prosopagnosic participants engaged in expression search but deviated from those predictions for identity search by the prosopagnosic cohort. We conclude that the face set size effect reveals a highly prevalent and selective perceptual inefficiency for processing face identity in developmental prosopagnosia.