Representations in learning new faces: Evidence from prosopagnosia

Michael R. Polster, Steven Z. Rapcsak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


We report the performance of a prosopagnosic patient on face learning tasks under different encoding instructions (i.e., levels of processing manipulations). R.J. performs at chance when given no encoding instructions or when given "shallow" encoding instructions to focus on facial features. By contrast, he performs relatively well with "deep" encoding instructions to rate faces in terms of personality traits or when provided with semantic and name information during the study phase. We propose that the improvement associated with deep encoding instructions may be related to the establishment of distinct visually derived and identity-specific semantic codes. The benefit associated with deep encoding in R.J., however, was found to be restricted to the specific view of the face presented at study and did not generalize to other views of the same face. These observations suggest that deep encoding instructions may enhance memory for concrete or pictorial representations of faces in patients with prosopagnosia, but that these patients cannot compensate for the inability to construct abstract structural codes that normally allow faces to be recognized from different orientations. We postulate further that R.J.'s poor performance on face learning tasks may be attributable to excessive reliance on a feature-based left hemisphere face processing system that operates primarily on view-specific representations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)240-248
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the International Neuropsychological Society
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1996


  • Face learning
  • Levels of processing
  • Prosopagnosia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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