Acquired prosopagnosia without word recognition deficits

Tirta Susilo, Victoria Wright, Jeremy Tree, Brad Duchaine

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It has long been suggested that face recognition relies on specialized mechanisms that are not involved in visual recognition of other object categories, including those that require expert, fine-grained discrimination at the exemplar level such as written words. But according to the recently proposed many-to-many theory of object recognition (MTMT), visual recognition of faces and words are carried out by common mechanisms (Behrmann & Plaut, 2013; 2014). MTMT acknowledges that face and word recognition are lateralized, but posits that the mechanisms that predominantly carry out face recognition still contribute to word recognition and vice versa. MTMT makes a key prediction, namely that acquired prosopagnosics should exhibit some measure of word recognition deficits. We tested this prediction by assessing written word recognition in five acquired prosopagnosic patients. Four patients had lesions limited to the right hemisphere while one had bilateral lesions with more pronounced lesions in the right hemisphere. The patients completed a total of seven word recognition tasks: two lexical decision tasks and five reading aloud tasks totalling more than 1,200 trials. The performances of the four older patients (3 female, age range 50-64 yo) were compared to 12 older controls (8 female, age range 56-66 yo), while the performance of the younger prosopagnosic (male, 31 yo) were compared to 14 younger controls (9 female, age range 20-33 yo). We analyzed all results at the single-patient level using Crawford’s t-test (Crawford & Howell, 1998). Across seven tasks, four prosopagnosics performed as quickly and accurately as controls. Our results demonstrate that acquired prosopagnosia can exist without word recognition deficits. These findings are inconsistent with a key prediction of MTMT. They instead support the hypothesis that face recognition is carried out by specialized mechanisms that do not contribute to recognition of written words.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)321-339
Number of pages19
JournalCognitive Neuropsychology
Issue number6
Early online date24 Sept 2015
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sept 2015


  • prosopagnosia
  • face
  • word
  • recognition
  • dissociation


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