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About this book

This book provides readers with a simplified and comprehensive account of the cognitive and neural bases of face perception in humans. Faces are ubiquitous in our environment and we rely on them during social interactions. The human face processing system allows us to extract information about the identity, gender, age, mood, race, attractiveness and approachability of other people in about a fraction of a second, just by glancing at their faces. By introducing readers to the most relevant research on face recognition, this book seeks to answer the questions: “Why are humans so fast at recognizing faces?”, “Why are humans so efficient at recognizing faces?”, “Do faces represent a particular category for the human visual system?”, What makes face perception in humans so special?, “Can our face recognition system fail”?. This book presents the author’s findings on face perception during his research studies on both normal subjects and subjects with prosopagnosia, a neurological disorder characterized by the inability to recognize faces. The book describes two known forms of prosopagnosia: acquired prosopagnosia, which is the result of a brain lesion, and congenital prosopagnosia, which refers to a lifelong, developmental impairment of face recognition. Written in a comprehensive and accessible style, this book addresses both experts (cognitive scientists, psychologists, neuroscientists and computer scientists) and the general public, and aims at raising awareness for a debilitating face recognition disorder, such as prosopagnosia, which is often ignored or misdiagnosed as autism, with serious consequences for the affected persons and their families.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1. Cognitive Science: History, Techniques and Methodology

Among the living creatures on earth, humans represent the only one that can study themselves. Since ancient Greece, philosophers have reflected on many issues including earth’s place within the Universe, whether there’s an afterlife, the human anatomy, how we remember and perceive the world, the role of science in society, and many others.
Davide Rivolta

Chapter 2. Cognitive and Neural Aspects of Face Processing

Faces represent the stimuli we rely on the most for social interaction. They inform us about the identity, mood, gender, age, attractiveness, race and approachability of a person. This is remarkable if we think that all faces share the same composition of internal features (i.e., two eyes above the nose and a mouth) and 3D structure. Thus, faces are unique in terms of the richness of social signals they convey, and the reason why face perception has played a central role for social interaction in a wide range of species for millions of years. Given its importance, face processing has also become one of the most prominent areas of research in cognitive science of the last 50 years, and a large number of behavioural, neuropsychological and neuroimaging studies have significantly advanced our understanding of the developmental, cognitive and neural bases of face perception.
Davide Rivolta

Chapter 3. Prosopagnosia: The Inability to Recognize Faces

Most people recognize familiar faces rapidly, accurately and effortlessly. However, this is not true for individuals with prosopagnosia, who show a deficit in recognizing familiar people by their faces.
Davide Rivolta

Chapter 4. Can I Recognize Faces Without Knowing it? Evidence of Covert Face Recognition in Prosopagnosia

A brain lesion can often cause a dysfunction of a specific cognitive domain. For example, some brain lesions can leave individuals unable to remember old and new events of their lives, such as what they did the night before, where they completed their studies or their appointment with the dentist scheduled for next week.
Davide Rivolta

Chapter 5. Stories from People Who Share Their Lives with Congenital Prosopagnosia

Up to now we have learned about cognitive science and its methods, about the cognitive and neural features of typical face processing, about congenital prosopagnosia and the mechanisms behind covert face recognition
Davide Rivolta
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