Abstract

Neuropsychological studies with patients suffering from prosopagnosia have provided the main evidence for the hypothesis that the recognition of faces and objects rely on distinct mechanisms. Yet doubts remain, and it has been argued that no case demonstrating an unequivocal dissociation between face and object recognition exists due in part to the lack of appropriate response time measurements (Gauthier et al., 1999). We tested seven developmental prosopagnosics to measure their accuracy and reaction times with multiple tests of face recognition and compared this with a larger battery of object recognition tests. For our systematic comparison, we used an old/new recognition memory paradigm involving memory tests for cars, tools, guns, horses, natural scenes, and houses in addition to two separate tests for faces.

Developmental prosopagnosic subjects performed very poorly with the face memory tests as expected. Four of the seven prosopagnosics showed a very strong dissociation between the face and object tests. Systematic comparison of reaction time measurements for all tests indicates that the dissociations cannot be accounted for by differences in reaction times. Contrary to an account based on speed accuracy tradeoffs, prosopagnosics were systematically faster in nonface tests than in face tests. Thus, our findings demonstrate that face and nonface recognition can dissociate over a wide range of testing conditions. This is further support for the hypothesis that face and nonface recognition relies on separate mechanisms and that developmental prosopagnosia constitutes a disorder separate from developmental agnosia.

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