The man who mistook his neuropsychologist for a popstar

Date & time

4–5pm 8 March 2016


Peter Baume Building 42A Room 2.01


Dr Ashok Jansari MA (Cantab), DPhil (Sussex), CPsychol, AFBPsS Goldsmiths College, University of London

The fascinating world of face-blindness, super-recognition and everyday face-recognition

Face recognition is a vital skill both for general survival and for social survival in today's complex societies. Cognitive psychologists and neuropsychologists have developed models of how we achieve this intricate task almost effortlessly despite encountering thousands of people in our lives. Some of the most valuable clues have come from studying people who have profound difficulties recognising familiar people like their family and friends (a condition known as 'prosopagnosia' or face-blindness) and more recently, people who are exceptionally good at recognising even unfamiliar faces a very long time after a fleeting encounter (known as 'super-recognition'). In this talk, the amazing world of face-recognition will be explored from a cognitive and neuroscientific perspective as well as how this research can be applied to the outside world.

In the first part of the talk, a detailed case-study will be presented of a brain-damaged patient DY, who experiences extreme difficulties in recognising familiar faces in everyday life despite excellent object recognition skills.  Formal testing indicates that he is also severely impaired at remembering unfamiliar faces and that he takes an extremely long time to identify even a small number of famous faces. Nevertheless, DY performs as quickly and as accurately as controls at recognising these famous faces when fracturing conceals the configural information in the face. Further, DY shows evidence of impaired holistic processing but normal local processing of Navon figures. This case appears to reflect the clearest example yet of an acquired prosopagnosic patient whose familiar face recognition deficit is caused by a severe configural processing deficit in the absence of any problems in featural processing. These preserved featural skills together with apparently intact visual imagery for faces allow DY to identify a surprisingly large number of famous faces when unlimited time is available. In the second part of the talk, the use of theoretical understanding of face processing will be combined with the errorless-learning technique borrowed from the amnesia literature to explore possibilities to improve face-memory in prosopagnosia. In the final part of the talk, the relatively new field of super-recognition will be explored to demonstrate the spectrum of face-recognition abilities and how this can be used in applied settings such as in crime prevention or security situations.

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