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Halder, Theresa; Ludwig, Karin; Schenk, Thomas (2024): Binocular rivalry reveals differential face processing in congenital prosopagnosia. Scientific Reports, 14 (1). ISSN 2045-2322

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Congenital Prosopagnosia (CP) is an innate impairment in face perception with heterogeneous characteristics. It is still unclear if and to what degree holistic processing of faces is disrupted in CP. Such disruption would be expected to lead to a focus on local features of the face. In this study, we used binocular rivalry (BR) to implicitly measure face perception in conditions that favour holistic or local processing. The underlying assumption is that if stimulus saliency affects the perceptual dominance of a given stimulus in BR, one can deduce how salient a stimulus is for a given group (here: participants with and without CP) based on the measured perceptual dominance. A further open question is whether the deficit in face processing in CP extends to the processing of the facial display of emotions. In experiment 1, we compared predominance of upright and inverted faces displaying different emotions (fearful, happy, neutral) vs. houses between participants with CP (N = 21) and with normal face perception (N = 21). The results suggest that CP observers process emotions in faces automatically but rely more on local features than controls. The inversion of faces, which is supposed to disturb holistic processing, affected controls in a more pronounced way than participants with CP. In experiment 2, we introduced the Thatcher effect in BR by inverting the eye and mouth regions of the presented faces in the hope of further increasing the effect of face inversion. However, our expectations were not borne out by the results. Critically, both experiments showed that inversion effects were more pronounced in controls than in CP, suggesting that holistic face processing is less relevant in CP. We find BR to be a useful implicit test for assessing visual processing specificities in neurological participants.

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