Is developmental prosopagnosia (DP) a disorder of face perception? This was the question posed by Dr Katie Fisher in a Psychology seminar at Swansea today. Dr Fisher’s research, conducted at Birkbeck, University of London’s Brain and Behaviour Lab explored both the perception and recognition of faces by people living with prosopagnosia or ‘face blindness’, whose severity can vary up to not recognising their own faces, let alone those of others.
Of particular interest for the Effaced project was the fact that the ‘atypical’ face – represented in Dr Fisher’s study by a scrambled assortment of facial features randomly arranged within the facial frame – takes more processing time than a ‘prototypical’ face (what a refreshing change from the language of normal/abnormal here!). This was true of both the control group and the DP participants. But what was also fascinating was the possibility that the DP participants started with a different facial ‘template’, which meant they did not start their scrutiny of faces in the same fixed point (the eyes) as the control group, and thus did not process the faces they were looking at in the same way.
This begs the obvious question – if it is possible to look at a face differently, or imagine a different ‘template’, how would these participants have fared if confronted with really different faces, where the initial point of fixation might be precisely the most ‘atypical’? Would this aid recognition or would there be little difference in the processing?
Read more about Katie’s work in her co-authored article:
John Towler, Katie Fisher and Martin Elmer, ‘The cognitive and neural basis of developmental prosopagnosia’, The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology70.2 (2017), 316-344.