Neural basis of Prosopagnosia investigated

These are examples of famous faces and non-famous faces used in Bradley Duchaine’s prosopagnosia experiment. Paired famous and non-famous faces are shown in corresponding positions. Credit: Bradley Duchaine

For Bradley Duchaine, there is definitely more than meets the eye where faces are concerned. With colleagues at Birkbeck College in the University of London, he is investigating the process of facial recognition, seeking to understand the complexity of what is actually taking place in the brain when one person looks at another. His studies target people who display an inability to recognize faces, a condition long known as prosopagnosia. Duchaine is trying to understand the neural basis of the condition while also make inferences about what is going wrong in terms of information processing—where in the stages that our brains go through to recognize a face is the system breaking down. A paper published in Brain details the most recent experimental results.

“We refer to prosopagnosia as a ‘selective’ deficit of face recognition, in that other cognitive process do not seem to be affected,” explains Duchaine, an associate professor of psychological and brain sciences. “[People with the condition] might be able to recognize voices perfectly, which demonstrates that it is really a visual problem. In what we call pure cases, people can recognize cars perfectly, and they can recognize houses perfectly. It is just faces that are a problem.” The condition may be acquired as the result of a stroke, for example. But in the recent study, Duchaine focused on developmental prosopagnosia, in which a person fails to develop facial recognition abilities. “Other parts of the brain develop apparently normally,” Duchaine says. “These are intelligent people who have good jobs and get along fine but they can’t recognize faces.”

More here Professor investigates neural basis of prosopagnosia.

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One Response to Neural basis of Prosopagnosia investigated

  1. Sonny says:

    Hint: The famous faces are left to right across the top row.

    Answers below:

    (names courtesy of Vermont Public Radio website http://www.vpr.net/episode/53097/science-face-blindness-or-prosopagnosia/)

    1. John Travolta (recognized his face from news about celebrities involved in Scientology)

    2. George W. Bush (the one who was elected US president in 2000 and 2004)

    3. Tom Cruise (don’t know, but it seems plausible that’s who it is, since his name is often in the headlines of celebrity news, which I avoid reading)

    4. Judi Dench (face seems familiar because she’s been in James Bond movies, but it’s an old picture of her and I don’t usually see anything that associates the names of actors and actresses in a movie with their photos just because I see a movie)

    I seemed to have prosopagnosia in school. I never learned all the names of everyone in class (in classrooms of 30.) Sometimes I would try to learn more names by recognizing people by their clothes and hair, because faces seemed so hard to tell apart from across a room. It turns out I needed glasses.

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