Perceptual biases in processing facial identity and emotion

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Normal observers demonstrate a bias to process the left sides of faces during perceptual judgments about identity or emotion. This effect suggests a right cerebral hemisphere processing bias. To test the role of the right hemisphere and the involvement of configural processing underlying this effect, young and older control observers and patients with right hemisphere damage completed two chimeric faces tasks (emotion judgment and face identity matching) with both upright and inverted faces. For control observers, the emotion judgment task elicited a strong left-sided perceptual bias that was reduced in young controls and eliminated in older controls by face inversion. Right hemisphere damage reversed the bias, suggesting the right hemisphere was dominant for this task, but that the left hemisphere could be flexibly recruited when right hemisphere mechanisms are not available or dominant. In contrast, face identity judgments were associated most clearly with a vertical bias favouring the uppermost stimuli that was eliminated by face inversion and right hemisphere lesions. The results suggest these tasks involve different neurocognitive mechanisms. The role of the right hemisphere and ventral cortical stream involvement with configural processes in face processing is discussed.

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