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Cortex. 2011 May;47(5):598-607. doi: 10.1016/j.cortex.2010.04.009. Epub 2010 May 21.

A new selective developmental deficit: Impaired object recognition with normal face recognition.

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Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA.



Studies of developmental deficits in face recognition, or developmental prosopagnosia, have shown that individuals who have not suffered brain damage can show face recognition impairments coupled with normal object recognition (Duchaine and Nakayama, 2005; Duchaine et al., 2006; Nunn et al., 2001). However, no developmental cases with the opposite dissociation - normal face recognition with impaired object recognition - have been reported. The existence of a case of non-face developmental visual agnosia would indicate that the development of normal face recognition mechanisms does not rely on the development of normal object recognition mechanisms.


To see whether a developmental variant of non-face visual object agnosia exists, we conducted a series of web-based object and face recognition tests to screen for individuals showing object recognition memory impairments but not face recognition impairments. Through this screening process, we identified AW, an otherwise normal 19-year-old female, who was then tested in the lab on face and object recognition tests.


AW's performance was impaired in within-class visual recognition memory across six different visual categories (guns, horses, scenes, tools, doors, and cars). In contrast, she scored normally on seven tests of face recognition, tests of memory for two other object categories (houses and glasses), and tests of recall memory for visual shapes. Testing confirmed that her impairment was not related to a general deficit in lower-level perception, object perception, basic-level recognition, or memory.


AW's results provide the first neuropsychological evidence that recognition memory for non-face visual object categories can be selectively impaired in individuals without brain damage or other memory impairment. These results indicate that the development of recognition memory for faces does not depend on intact object recognition memory and provide further evidence for category-specific dissociations in visual recognition.

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