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Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America


Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences


Face recognition is generally thought to rely on different neurocognitive mechanisms than most types of objects, but the specificity of these mechanisms is debated. One account suggests the mechanisms are specific to upright faces, whereas the expertise view proposes the mechanisms operate on objects of high within-class similarity with which an observer has become proficient at rapid individuation. Much of the evidence cited in support of the expertise view comes from laboratory-based training experiments involving computer-generated objects called greebles that are designed to place face-like demands on recognition mechanisms. A fundamental prediction of the expertise hypothesis is that recognition deficits with faces will be accompanied by deficits with objects of expertise. Here we present two cases of acquired prosopagnosia, Herschel and Florence, who violate this prediction: Both show normal performance in a standard greeble training procedure, along with severe deficits on a matched face training procedure. Herschel and Florence also meet several response time criteria that advocates of the expertise view suggest signal successful acquisition of greeble expertise. Furthermore, Herschel’s results show that greeble learning can occur without normal functioning of the right fusiform face area, an area proposed to mediate greeble expertise. The marked dissociation between face and greeble expertise undermines greeble-based claims challenging face-specificity and indicates face recognition mechanisms are not necessary for object recognition after laboratory-based training.