An objective electrophysiological marker of face individualisation impairment in acquired prosopagnosia with fast periodic visual stimulation

Neuropsychologia. 2016 Mar:83:100-113. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2015.08.023. Epub 2015 Aug 28.


One of the most striking pieces of evidence for a specialised face processing system in humans is acquired prosopagnosia, i.e. the inability to individualise faces following brain damage. However, a sensitive and objective non-behavioural marker for this deficit is difficult to provide with standard event-related potentials (ERPs), such as the well-known face-related N170 component reported and investigated in-depth by our late distinguished colleague Shlomo Bentin. Here we demonstrate that fast periodic visual stimulation (FPVS) in electrophysiology can quantify face individualisation impairment in acquired prosopagnosia. In Experiment 1 (Liu-Shuang et al., 2014), identical faces were presented at a rate of 5.88 Hz (i.e., ≈ 6 images/s, SOA=170 ms, 1 fixation per image), with different faces appearing every 5th face (5.88 Hz/5=1.18 Hz). Responses of interest were identified at these predetermined frequencies (i.e., objectively) in the EEG frequency-domain data. A well-studied case of acquired prosopagnosia (PS) and a group of age- and gender-matched controls completed only 4 × 1-min stimulation sequences, with an orthogonal fixation cross task. Contrarily to controls, PS did not show face individualisation responses at 1.18 Hz, in line with her prosopagnosia. However, her response at 5.88 Hz, reflecting general visual processing, was within the normal range. In Experiment 2 (Rossion et al., 2015), we presented natural (i.e., unsegmented) images of objects at 5.88 Hz, with face images shown every 5th image (1.18 Hz). In accordance with her preserved ability to categorise a face as a face, and despite extensive brain lesions potentially affecting the overall EEG signal-to-noise ratio, PS showed 1.18 Hz face-selective responses within the normal range. Collectively, these findings show that fast periodic visual stimulation provides objective and sensitive electrophysiological markers of preserved and impaired face processing abilities in the neuropsychological population.

Keywords: EEG; ERP; Fast periodic visual stimulation; Prosopagnosia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Concept Formation / physiology*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology*
  • Face*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Prosopagnosia / physiopathology*