Impaired processing of facial happiness, with or without awareness, in developmental prosopagnosia

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Developmental prosopagnosia (DP) is associated with severe, lifelong deficits in face recognition, with such cases often cited as support for a dissociation between the processing of facial identity and emotion. Here we examine the evidence against this dissociation and propose that the processing of facial happiness, either with or without awareness, is actually integrated within the same neural network involved in facial identity recognition. We also test this hypothesis on a group of DP cases and neurotypical controls (NT) by adapting them to expressionless neutral faces, intact happy faces and hybrid faces. Despite these hybrid faces being explicitly identified as expressionless due to their higher spatial frequencies taken from a neutral face, their low spatial frequencies convey happy facial expressions that participants are unaware of. After adaptation, participants were asked to judge the facial expressions of face stimuli that were morphed incrementally in varying degrees of sad through to happy. Both groups exhibited emotion adaptation aftereffects to the intact happy faces, although this effect was smaller in DP. Whereas NT produced emotion adaptation aftereffects without awareness of the happy emotion in the hybrid faces; as a group, those with DP did not. Furthermore, our DP cases also exhibited deficits in judging the emotion of the happiest morphed test faces. Our results indicate that the processing of happy facial expressions, with or without awareness, is likely integrated within the face recognition network. We hypothesise that the previously identified abnormalities in the fusiform gyrus in those with DP is the most likely structure responsible for these deficits.

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