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Susanne Quadflieg, Alexander Todorov, Bruno Rossion; Holistic processing of unfamiliar faces during social judgments in acquired prosopagnosia. Journal of Vision 2011;11(11):570. doi: 10.1167/11.11.570.
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Prosopagnosia, an impairment at individualizing faces classically caused by brain damage, has been linked to a deficit in holistic face processing. Holistic perception of facial information, however, does not only play a pivotal role during face identity judgments but also for judgements of facial expression (Calder et al., 2001). In a similar vein, there is recent evidence that social judgments concerning stable characteristics of other people such as their trustworthiness seem to rely strongly on the holistic processing of relatively invariant person-specific facial cues (Todorov, Loehr, & Oosterhof, 2010). In consequence, if prosopagnosics are unable to process person-specific facial cues holistically, and if social judgments require such kind of processing, prosopagnosic patients should also demonstrate a marked deficit in face-based trait judgements. To address this issue empirically, we asked a well-characterized case of aquired prosopagnosia (PS) with a marked deficit in holistic face processing when identity judgments are concerned (Ramon, Busigny, & Rossion, 2010) to rate a set of standardized same-race faces on trustworthiness. The data revealed that PS provided trustworthiness judgments within the normal range. To further inquire whether her judgments reflected holistic processing of facial features, PS was also asked to evaluate trustworthiness in the context of a composite face paradigm (see Todorov et al., 2010). Similar to healthy controls, PS judged facial halves more trustworthy when aligned with trustworthy than with untrustworthy halves, despite the instructions to ignore the aligned parts. These findings thus challenge the assumption that prosopagnosia is characterized by a general impairment of holistic processing during face perception. As such, the results rather support the view that abnormal holistic processing of an individual face in prosopagnosia depends on the type of judgment required and potentially on the fine-grained degree to which – rather than if – a judgment relies on the integration of person-specific facial information.
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