Implicit familiarity processing in congenital prosopagnosia.

Journal of neuropsychology

PubMedID: 19334309

Avidan G, Behrmann M. Implicit familiarity processing in congenital prosopagnosia. J Neuropsychol. 2008;2(Pt 1):141-64.
A particularly interesting and somewhat puzzling finding in the face-processing literature is that, despite the absence of overt recognition of most faces, many patients with acquired prosopagnosia (AP) exhibit evidence of intact covert face recognition of the very same faces. This phenomenon has important implications for the understanding of the mechanism underlying AP and, by extension, the mechanism underlying normal face processing. Here, we set out to examine whether individuals with congenital prosopagnosia (CP) exhibit a similar dissociation between overt and covert face recognition. We first confirmed that all six of our CP individuals were significantly impaired in face recognition in comparison with controls. Participants then completed a matching task with both famous and unknown faces in which they decided whether two consecutive images have the same identity or not. Critically, the level of face familiarity was orthogonal to the task at hand and this enabled us to examine whether the familiarity of a face enhanced identity matching, a finding which would implicate implicit face processing. As expected, the CP individuals were slower and less accurate than the control participants. More importantly, like the controls, the CP individuals were faster and more accurate at matching famous compared with unknown faces. Also, for both groups, matching performance on unrecognized famous faces fell at an intermediate level between performance on explicitly recognized famous faces and faces which are unknown. These results provide the first solid evidence for the existence of implicit familiarity processing in CP and suggest that, despite the marked impairment in explicit face recognition, these individuals still have some familiarity representation which manifests in the form of covert recognition. We discuss possible models to account for the apparent dissociation of overt and covert face processing in CPR.