Phasic alertness enhances processing of face and non-face stimuli in congenital prosopagnosia Academic Article uri icon


  • Congenital prosopagnosia (CP) is a severe face processing impairment that occurs in the absence of any obvious brain damage and has often been associated with a more general deficit in deriving holistic relations between facial features or even between non-face shape dimensions. Here we further characterized this deficit and examined a potential way to ameliorate it. To this end we manipulated phasic alertness using alerting cues previously shown to modulate attention and enhance global processing of visual stimuli in normal observers. Specifically, we first examined whether individuals with CP, similarly to controls, would show greater global processing when exposed to an alerting cue in the context of a non-facial task (Navon global/local task). We then explored the effect of an alerting cue on face processing (upright/inverted face discrimination). Confirming previous findings, in the absence of alerting cues, controls showed a typical global bias in the Navon task and an inversion effect indexing holistic processing in the upright/inverted task, while CP failed to show these effects. Critically, when alerting cues preceded the experimental trials, both groups showed enhanced global interference and a larger inversion effect. These results suggest that phasic alertness may modulate visual processing and consequently, affect global/holistic perception. Hence, these findings further reinforce the notion that global/holistic processing may serve as a possible mechanism underlying the face processing deficit in CP. Moreover, they imply a possible route for enhancing face processing in individuals with CP and thus shed new light on potential amelioration of this disorder.

publication date

  • January 1, 2016