Journal of Neuropsychology vol:2 issue:Pt 1 pages:245-68
Selective impairment of face recognition following brain damage, as in acquired prosopagnosia, may cause a dramatic loss of diagnosticity of the eye area of the face and an increased reliance on the mouth for identification (Caldara et al., 2005). To clarify the nature of this phenomenon, we measured eye fixation patterns in a case of pure prosopagnosia (PS, Rossion et al., 2003) during her identification of photographs of personally familiar faces (27 children of her kindergarten). Her age-matched colleague served as a control. Consistent with previous evidence, the normal control identified the faces within two fixations located just below the eyes (central upper nose). This pattern (location and duration) of fixations remained unchanged even by increasing difficulty by presenting anti-caricatures of the faces. In contrast, the great majority of the patient's fixations, irrespective of her accuracy, were located on the mouth. Overall, these observations confirm the abnormally reduced processing of the upper area of the face in acquired prosopagnosia. Most importantly, the prosopagnosic patient also fixated the area of the eyes spontaneously in between the first and last fixation, ruling out alternative accounts of her behaviour such as, for example, avoidance or failure to orient attention to the eyes, as observed in autistic or bilateral amygdala patients. Rather, they reinforce our proposal of a high-level perceptual account (Caldara et al., 2005), according to which acquired prosopagnosic patients have lost the ability to represent multiple elements of an individual face as a perceptual unit (holistic face perception). To identify a given face, they focus very precisely on local features rather than seeing the whole of a face from its diagnostic centre (i.e., just below the eyes). The upper area of the face is particularly less attended to and less relevant for the prosopagnosic patient because it contains multiple features that require normal holistic perception in order to be the most diagnostic region. Consequently, prosopagnosic patients develop a more robust representation of the mouth, a relatively isolated feature in the face that may contain more information than any single element of the upper face area, and is thus sampled repeatedly for resolving ambiguity in the process of identification.