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Behavioural dissociation between emotional and non-emotional facial expressions in congenital prosopagnosia

By Roberta eDaini, Chiara Maddalena Comparetti and Paola eRicciardelli


Neuropsychological and neuroimaging studies have shown that facial recognition and emotional expressions are dissociable. However, it is unknown if a single system supports the processing of emotional and non-emotional facial expressions. We aimed to understand if individuals with impairment in face recognition from birth (congenital prosopagnosia, CP) can use non-emotional facial expressions to recognize a face as an already seen one, and thus, process this facial dimension independently from features (which are impaired in CP), and basic emotional expressions. To this end, we carried out a behavioural study in which we compared the performance of 6 CP individuals to that of typical development individuals, using upright and inverted faces. Four avatar faces with a neutral expression were presented in the initial phase. The target faces presented in the recognition phase, in which a recognition task was requested (2AFC paradigm), could be identical (neutral) to those of the initial phase or present biologically plausible changes to features, non-emotional expressions, or emotional expressions. After this task, a second task was performed, in which the participants had to detect whether or not the recognized face exactly matched the study face or showed any difference. The results confirmed the CPs’ impairment in the configural processing of the invariant aspects of the face, but also showed a spared configural processing of non emotional facial expression (task 1). Interestingly and unlike the non-emotional expressions, the configural processing of emotional expressions was compromised in CPs and did not improve their change detection ability (task 2). These new results have theoretical implications for face perception models since they suggest that, at least in CPs, non-emotional expressions are processed configurally, can be dissociated from other facial dimensions, and may serve as a compensatory strategy to achieve face recognitio

Topics: face perception, congenital prosopagnosia, Emotional expressions, unfamiliar face recognition, non-emotional expression processing
Publisher: Frontiers Media S.A.
Year: 2014
DOI identifier: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.00974
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