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J Vis. 2019 Aug 1;19(9):7. doi: 10.1167/19.9.7.

Eye movements and retinotopic tuning in developmental prosopagnosia.

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Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA.
Center for Brain Science, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA.
Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH, USA.


Despite extensive investigation, the causes and nature of developmental prosopagnosia (DP)-a severe face identification impairment in the absence of acquired brain injury-remain poorly understood. Drawing on previous work showing that individuals identified as being neurotypical (NT) show robust individual differences in where they fixate on faces, and recognize faces best when the faces are presented at this location, we defined and tested four novel hypotheses for how atypical face-looking behavior and/or retinotopic face encoding could impair face recognition in DP: (a) fixating regions of poor information, (b) inconsistent saccadic targeting, (c) weak retinotopic tuning, and (d) fixating locations not matched to the individual's own face tuning. We found no support for the first three hypotheses, with NTs and DPs consistently fixating similar locations and showing similar retinotopic tuning of their face perception performance. However, in testing the fourth hypothesis, we found preliminary evidence for two distinct phenotypes of DP: (a) Subjects characterized by impaired face memory, typical face perception, and a preference to look high on the face, and (b) Subjects characterized by profound impairments to both face memory and perception and a preference to look very low on the face. Further, while all NTs and upper-looking DPs performed best when faces were presented near their preferred fixation location, this was not true for lower-looking DPs. These results suggest that face recognition deficits in a substantial proportion of people with DP may arise not from aberrant face gaze or compromised retinotopic tuning, but from the suboptimal matching of gaze to tuning.


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