Why face recognition is a tough task for some people

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Washington, Feb 11 (ANI): A new Belgian research has found that acquired prosopagnosia (AP), a condition usually occurring after brain damage and hampering face recognition, is related to the failure to process faces as a whole.

Meike Ramon and Dr Bruno Rossion from the Universiti de Louvain in Belgium have been studying the case of PS, a 59-year-old kindergarten teacher and one of the few cases of pure acquired prosopagnosia in the world. She has been suffering from AP since having sustained closed head injury in 1992.

For the study, volunteers were asked to match images of faces, which had been manipulated to differ either in a single feature or the distance between two features. As expected, the patient PS had difficulty in the matching task when changes to the faces occurred randomly. Remarkably, however, when told which feature had been changed, for example the distance between the eyes, her performance profile paralleled that of healthy subjects.

The findings suggest that AP patients become incapable of processing different elements of the face in parallel and instead "apply a locally restricted, serial processing style, which is particularly inefficient for certain types of information." Knowing which information to look for makes this strategy relatively more efficient. Although, this may not help AP patients in real-life situations, "it does however shed light on what makes normal face recognition so overwhelmingly efficient: our capacity to simultaneously integrate the multiple facial elements into a unique representation", said Ramon.

The study has appeared in the March 2010 issue of Elsevier's Cortex. (ANI)

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