A modulatory role for facial expressions in prosopagnosia


National Academy of Sciences


Brain-damaged patients experience difficulties in recognizing a face (prosopagnosics), but they can still recognize its expression. The dissociation between these two face-related skills has served as a keystone of models of face processing. We now report that the presence of a facial expression can influence face identification. For normal viewers, the presence of a facial expression influences performance negatively, whereas for prosopagnosic patients, it improves performance dramatically. Accordingly, although prosopagnosic patients show a failure to process the facial configuration in the interest of face identification, that ability returns when the face shows an emotional expression. Accompanying brain-imaging results indicate activation in brain areas (amygdala, superior temporal sulcus, parietal cortex) outside the occipitotemporal areas normally activated for face identification and lesioned in these patients. This finding suggests a modulatory role of these areas in face identification that is independent of occipitotemporal face areas.

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