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Javid Sadr, Bradley C. Duchaine, Ken Nakayama; The perception of facial attractiveness in prosopagnosia. Journal of Vision 2004;4(8):914. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/4.8.914.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
In perceiving faces, we recognize the identities of individuals, note their gender and age, interpret their nonverbal expressions, and are, at times, utterly captivated by their beauty. It is interesting, then, that the visual mechanisms underlying the identification of faces can indeed be shown to be separable from those mediating the perception of gender, for example, or of facial expressions. Such functional dissociations, both as seen in clinical studies and as indicated by experiments with normal subjects, have served to delineate the mechanisms of face recognition in particular and to shed light on the varied constituent processes (e.g., recognition of identity, gender, emotion, etc.) that form the gamut of normal face perception as a whole. We now demonstrate another such division in face processing — a compelling dissociation between the perception of face identity and that of facial attractiveness. Here we present cases of prosopagnosia in which the perception of facial attractiveness is severely compromised or, perhaps more remarkably, spared. These patients, well-matched both in terms of their marked inability to recognize faces as well as in their spared, normal ability to recognize objects, show distinctly different patterns of responses in subjective attractiveness ratings of male and female faces, either agreeing well with those of normal subjects or straying quite profoundly. Further, not only do we see that a prosopagnosic's perception of facial attractiveness may be quite inconsistent with that of normal observers, it also may be quite variable over time. These findings demonstrate an intriguing dissociation between the processes subserving face recognition and those which underlie the perception of facial attractiveness. Moreover, that the perception of attractiveness can proceed normally in the absence of the mechanisms necessary for face recognition may well serve to suggest important constraints on theories of facial aesthetics.
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