The cognitive neuroscience of person identification

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Abstract

We compare and contrast five differences between person identification by voice and face. 1. There is little or no cost when a familiar face is to be recognized from an unrestricted set of possible faces, even at Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP) rates, but the accuracy of familiar voice recognition declines precipitously when the set of possible speakers is increased from one to a mere handful. 2. Whereas deficits in face recognition are typically perceptual in origin, those with normal perception of voices can manifest severe deficits in their identification. 3. Congenital prosopagnosics (CPros) and congenital phonagnosics (CPhon) are generally unable to imagine familiar faces and voices, respectively. Only in CPros, however, is this deficit a manifestation of a general inability to form visual images of any kind. CPhons report no deficit in imaging non-voice sounds. 4. The prevalence of CPhons of 3.2% is somewhat higher than the reported prevalence of approximately 2.0% for CPros in the population. There is evidence that CPhon represents a distinct condition statistically and not just normal variation. 5. Face and voice recognition proficiency are uncorrelated rather than reflecting limitations of a general capacity for person individuation.

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