Covert recognition and the neural system for face processing

Stefan R. Schweinberger*, A. Mike Burton

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleProfessionalpeer-review

206 Citations (Scopus)


In this viewpoint, we discuss the new evidence on covert face recognition in prosopagnosia presented by Bobes et al. (2003, this issue) and by Sperber and Spinnler (2003, this issue). Contrary to earlier hypotheses, both papers agree that covert and overt face recognition are based on the same mechanism. In line with this suggestion, an analysis of reported cases with prosopagnosia indicates that a degree of successful encoding of facial representations is a prerequisite for covert recognition to occur. While we agree with this general conclusion as far as Bobes et al.'s and Sperber and Spinnler's data are concerned, we also discuss evidence for a dissociation between different measures of covert recognition. Specifically, studies in patients with Capgras delusion and patients with prosopagnosia suggest that skin conductance and behavioural indexes of covert face recognition are mediated by partially different mechanisms. We also discuss implications of the new data for models of normal face recognition that have been successful in simulating covert recognition phenomena (e.g., Young and Burton, 1999, and O'Reilly et al., 1999). Finally, in reviewing recent neurophysiological and brain imaging evidence concerning the neural system for face processing, we argue that the relationship between ERP components (specifically, N170, N250r, and N400) and different cognitive processes in face recognition is beginning to emerge.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9-30
Number of pages22
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2003
Externally publishedYes


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