Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


A face is more than the sum of its parts

Acquired prosopagnosia reveals what is special about normal face recognition

You stop at a shop window and wonder why someone inside is blatantly staring at you — until you realize this person is you. Scenarios like this are impossible for us to imagine, but quite common for sufferers of acquired prosopagnosia (AP), a condition which can occur after brain damage, hindering the ability to recognize faces.

In a new study published in the March 2010 issue of Elsevier's Cortex (, researchers have found that the condition is linked to an inability to process faces as a whole, or holistically.

Meike Ramon and Dr Bruno Rossion from the Université de Louvain in Belgium have been investigating the case of PS, a 59 year-old kindergarten teacher and one of the few cases of pure acquired prosopagnosia in the world. She has been suffering from AP since having sustained closed head injury in 1992. Past accounts of the condition have focused on AP sufferers' difficulty in processing the eye-region of a face, or perceiving relative distances between facial features. In their new study, Ramon and Rossion found that both impairments are linked to a common cause: the inability to process faces as a whole.

Participants in the study were asked to match images of faces, which had been manipulated to differ either in a single feature or the distance between two features. As expected, the patient PS had difficulty in the matching task when changes to the faces occurred randomly. Strikingly, however, when told which feature had been changed (e.g. distance between the eyes), her performance profile paralleled that of healthy subjects.

The findings suggest that AP patients are unable to process different elements of the face in parallel and instead "apply a locally restricted, serial processing style, which is particularly inefficient for certain types of information." Knowing which information to look for makes this strategy relatively more efficient. While this may not help AP patients in real-life situations, "it does however shed light on what makes normal face recognition so overwhelmingly efficient: our capacity to simultaneously integrate the multiple facial elements into a unique representation", commented Ramon.

Notes to Editors:

The article is "Impaired processing of relative distances between features and of the eye region in acquired prosopagnosia - Two sides of the same holistic coin?" by Meike Ramon and Bruno Rossion and appears in Cortex, Volume 46, Issue 3 (March 2010), published by Elsevier in Italy. Full text of the article featured above is available to members of the media upon request. Please contact the Elsevier press office, To schedule an interview, contact Meike Ramon,

About Cortex

Cortex is an international journal devoted to the study of cognition and of the relationship between the nervous system and mental processes, particularly as these are reflected in the behaviour of patients with acquired brain lesions, normal volunteers, children with typical and atypical development, and in the activation of brain regions and systems as recorded by functional neuroimaging techniques. It was founded in 1964 by Ennio De Renzi. The Editor in-chief of Cortex is Sergio Della Sala, Professor of Human Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh. Fax: 0131 6513230, e-mail: Cortex is available online at

About Elsevier

Elsevier is a world-leading publisher of scientific, technical and medical information products and services. The company works in partnership with the global science and health communities to publish more than 2,000 journals, including The Lancet ( and Cell (, and close to 20,000 book titles, including major reference works from Mosby and Saunders. Elsevier's online solutions include ScienceDirect (, Scopus (, Reaxys (, MD Consult ( and Nursing Consult (, which enhance the productivity of science and health professionals, and the SciVal suite ( and MEDai's Pinpoint Review (, which help research and health care institutions deliver better outcomes more cost-effectively.

A global business headquartered in Amsterdam, Elsevier ( employs 7,000 people worldwide. The company is part of Reed Elsevier Group PLC (, a world-leading publisher and information provider, which is jointly owned by Reed Elsevier PLC and Reed Elsevier NV. The ticker symbols are REN (Euronext Amsterdam), REL (London Stock Exchange), RUK and ENL (New York Stock Exchange).

Valeria Brancolini | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Rutgers-led innovation could spur faster, cheaper, nano-based manufacturing
14.02.2018 | Rutgers University

nachricht New study from the University of Halle: How climate change alters plant growth
12.01.2018 | Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Researchers at Fraunhofer monitor re-entry of Chinese space station Tiangong-1

In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.

Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...

Im Focus: Alliance „OLED Licht Forum“ – Key partner for OLED lighting solutions

Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.

They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...

Im Focus: Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

Oceans formed before Tharsis and evolved together, shaping climate history of Mars

A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...

Im Focus: Tiny implants for cells are functional in vivo

For the first time, an interdisciplinary team from the University of Basel has succeeded in integrating artificial organelles into the cells of live zebrafish embryos. This innovative approach using artificial organelles as cellular implants offers new potential in treating a range of diseases, as the authors report in an article published in Nature Communications.

In the cells of higher organisms, organelles such as the nucleus or mitochondria perform a range of complex functions necessary for life. In the networks of...

Im Focus: Locomotion control with photopigments

Researchers from Göttingen University discover additional function of opsins

Animal photoreceptors capture light with photopigments. Researchers from the University of Göttingen have now discovered that these photopigments fulfill an...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

TRAPPIST-1 planets provide clues to the nature of habitable worlds

21.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

The search for dark matter widens

21.03.2018 | Materials Sciences

Natural enemies reduce pesticide use

21.03.2018 | Life Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>