Two cases of selective developmental voice-recognition impairments

Curr Biol. 2014 Oct 6;24(19):2348-53. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2014.08.048. Epub 2014 Sep 25.


Recognizing other individuals is an essential skill in humans and in other species. Over the last decade, it has become increasingly clear that person-identity recognition abilities are highly variable. Roughly 2% of the population has developmental prosopagnosia, a congenital deficit in recognizing others by their faces. It is currently unclear whether developmental phonagnosia, a deficit in recognizing others by their voices, is equally prevalent, or even whether it actually exists. Here, we aimed to identify cases of developmental phonagnosia. We collected more than 1,000 data sets from self-selected German individuals by using a web-based screening test that was designed to assess their voice-recognition abilities. We then examined potentially phonagnosic individuals by using a comprehensive laboratory test battery. We found two novel cases of phonagnosia: AS, a 32-year-old female, and SP, a 32-year-old male; both are otherwise healthy academics, have normal hearing, and show no pathological abnormalities in brain structure. The two cases have comparable patterns of impairments: both performed at least 2 SDs below the level of matched controls on tests that required learning new voices, judging the familiarity of famous voices, and discriminating pitch differences between voices. In both cases, only voice-identity processing per se was affected: face recognition, speech intelligibility, emotion recognition, and musical ability were all comparable to controls. The findings confirm the existence of developmental phonagnosia as a modality-specific impairment and allow a first rough prevalence estimate.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Agnosia / diagnosis*
  • Agnosia / epidemiology
  • Agnosia / genetics
  • Agnosia / pathology
  • Auditory Perception*
  • Female
  • Germany / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Recognition, Psychology
  • Voice*
  • Young Adult