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We document a seemingly unique case of severe prosopagnosia, L. R., who suffered damage to his anterior and inferior right temporal lobe as a result of a motor vehicle accident. We systematically investigated each of three factors associated with expert face recognition: fine-level discrimination, holistic processing, and configural processing (Experiments 1-3). Surprisingly, L. R. shows preservation of all three of these processes; that is, his performance in these experiments is comparable to that of normal controls. However, L. R. is only able to apply these processes over a limited spatial extent to the fine-level detail within faces. Thus, when the location of a given change is unpredictable (Experiment 3), L. R. exhibits normal detection of features and spatial configurations only for the lower half of each face. Similarly, when required to divide his attention over multiple face features, L. R. is able to determine the identity of only a single feature (Experiment 4). We discuss these results in the context of forming a better understanding of prosopagnosia and the mechanisms used in face recognition and visual expertise. We conclude that these mechanisms are not "all-or-none," but rather can be impaired incrementally, such that they may remain functional over a restricted spatial area. This conclusion is consistent with previous research suggesting that perceptual expertise is acquired in a spatially incremental manner [Gauthier, I., & Tarr, M. J. Unraveling mechanisms for expert object recognition: Bridging brain activity and behavior. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception & Performance, 28, 431-446, 2002].
Our laboratory has previously characterized a rabbit model of gestational cocaine exposure in which permanent alterations in neuronal morphology, cell signaling and psychostimulant-induced behavior are observed. The cellular and molecular neuroadaptations produced by prenatal cocaine occur in brain regions involved in executive function and attention, such as the anterior cingulate and medial prefrontal cortices. Therefore, in the present study, we have measured the effects of prenatal cocaine exposure on specific behavioral tasks in adult offspring whose mothers were treated with cocaine (3mg/kg, twice a day, E16-E25). We assessed non-spatial, short-term memory in a two-object recognition task and found no deficits in memory or exploratory behaviors in cocaine-exposed offspring in this paradigm. We also evaluated a different memory task with a more robust attentional component, using spontaneous alternation in a Y maze. In this task, young adult rabbits exposed to cocaine prenatally exhibited a significant deficit in performance. Deficits in spontaneous alternation can be induced by a wide variety of behavioral and cognitive dysfunctions, but taken together with previous findings in this and other animal models, we hypothesize that prenatal exposure to cocaine alters highly specific aspects of cognitive and emotional development.
Agnosia, the impairment in object and face recognition despite intact vision and intelligence, is one of the most intriguing and debilitating neuropsychological deficits. The goal of this study was to determine whether S.M., an individual with longstanding visual agnosia and concomitant prosopagnosia, can be retrained to perform visual object recognition and, if so, what neural substrates mediate this reacquisition. Additionally, of interest is the extent to which training on one type of visual stimulus generalizes to other visual stimuli, as this informs our understanding of the organization of ventral visual cortex. Greebles were chosen as the stimuli for retraining given that, in neurologically normal individuals, these stimuli can engage the fusiform face area. Posttraining, S.M. showed significant improvement in recognizing Greebles, although he did not attain normal levels of performance. He was also able to recognize untrained Greebles and showed improvement in recognizing common objects. Surprisingly, his performance on face recognition, albeit poor initially, was even more impaired following training. A comparison of pre- and postintervention functional neuroimaging data mirrored the behavioral findings: Face-selective voxels in the fusiform gyrus prior to training were no longer so and were, in fact, more Greeble-selective. The findings indicate potential for experience-dependent dynamic reorganization in agnosia with the possibility that residual neural tissue, with limited capacity, will compete for representations.
Abnormal hypoactivation in the amygdala and fusiform gyrus, brain areas that participate in face processing and social cognition, has consistently been demonstrated in persons with autism. We investigated activity in these areas in a boy with autism, DD, who had a special interest in "Digimon" cartoon characters. DD individuates Digimon faster than familiar faces and objects, but he individuates familiar faces no faster than objects. In contrast, a typically developing boy with an interest in "Pokemon" cartoon characters is equally fast at individuating faces and Pokemon and faster at individuating faces and Pokemon than objects and Digimon. In addition, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we show that DD activates his amygdala and fusiform gyrus for perceptual discriminations involving Digimon but not for those involving familiar or unfamiliar faces. This pattern of activation is not seen in the typically developing control with an interest in Pokemon or in a second comparison case who has autism but no interest in Digimon. These results have important implications for our understanding of autism, cortical face specialization, and the possible role of the amygdala in the development of perceptual expertise.
Which image geometries count as face-like and which do not? Across multiple experiments, novel objects called Greebles have been used to argue that face-specific effects can be obtained with non-face stimuli under certain situations, in particular with expert observers. However, this claim depends on the argument that these non-face stimuli are not a priori treated by the face processing system. To address this question, CK, a neuropsychological patient well-known for exhibiting severe visual object agnosia and dyslexia but intact face processing, was tested with Greebles. CK performed poorly on Greebles, indicating that his intact face-specific abilities do not extend to include Greebles. These results suggest that insofar as CK is relying on face-specific visual processes, these processes do not a priori treat Greebles as faces.
The dissociable neural subsystems theory proposes that left-hemisphere (LH) performance is dominated by a viewpoint-invariant (VI) recognition subsystem, whereas right-hemisphere (RH) performance is dominated by a viewpoint-dependent (VD) subsystem (Marsolek, 1999). Studies supporting this theory have used familiar objects and, therefore, may have been confounded by characteristics beyond perceptual features. Experiment 1, a lateralized sequential-matching task with novel objects, showed VD recognition in both hemispheres. In Experiment 2, some participants learned semantic associations for four novel objects, whereas others were exposed to the novel objects without the semantic associations. Both groups later performed a depth-rotated lateralized sequential-matching task. The participants who had learned semantic associations showed greater VD performance in the RH than in the LH; however, the participants in the control group showed equivalent VD performance in both hemispheres. The results suggest that hemispheric differences in VD performance may be partially attributable to an LH advantage for semantic processing.
Theories of visual recognition place different emphasis on the role of non-stimulus factors. Previously, we showed that arbitrary semantic associations influenced visual recognition of novel objects. Here, the neural substrate of this effect was investigated. During a visual task, novel objects associated with arbitrary semantic features produced more activation in frontal and parietal cortex than objects associated with names. Because the task required no semantic retrieval, access to semantics appears to be involuntary. The brain regions involved have been implicated in semantic processing, thus recently acquired semantics activate a similar network to semantics learned over a lifetime.
Recent neuroimaging studies in adults indicate that visual areas selective for recognition of faces can be recruited through expertise for nonface objects. This reflects a new emphasis on experience in theories of visual specialization. In addition, novel work infers differences between categories of nonface objects, allowing a re-interpretation of differences seen between recognition of faces and objects. Whether there are experience-independent precursors of face expertise remains unclear; indeed, parallels between literature for infants and adults suggest that methodological issues need to be addressed before strong conclusions can be drawn regarding the origins of face recognition.