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Volume 5 Issue 4 (November 2002), Pages iii-iii, F9-F16, 397-516

The effect of early visual deprivation on the development of face processing (pages 490-501)

We evaluated the importance of early visual input for the later development of expertise in face processing by studying 17 patients, aged 10 to 38 years, treated for bilateral congenital cataracts that deprived them of patterned visual input for the first 7 weeks or more after birth. We administered five computerized tasks that required matching faces on the basis of identity (with changed facial expression or head orientation), facial expression, gaze direction and lip reading. Compared to an age–matched control group, patients’ recognition of facial identity was impaired significantly when there was a change in head orientation (e.g. from frontal to tilted up), and tended to be impaired when there was a change in facial expression (e.g. from happy to surprised). Patients performed normally when matching facial expression and direction of gaze (e.g. looking left or right), and in reading lips (e.g. pronouncing ‘u’ or ‘a’). The results indicate that visual input during early infancy is necessary for the normal development of some aspects of face processing, and are consistent with theories postulating the importance of early visual experience (de Schonen & Mathivet, 1989; Johnson & Morton, 1991) and separate neural mediation of different components of face processing (Bruce & Young, 1986).

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