We are a research group at Victoria University of Wellington led by Tirta Susilo. We study face perception and prosopagnosia (face blindness) as a model problem for tackling bigger questions about vision and cognition in the brain: How does the brain construct visual experience and allow us to recognise people, places, and objects? How does the visual system work with other cognitive systems to activate memories, generate emotions, and produce actions? What components of brain and cognition are general-purpose, and what components are domain-specific? How do developmental conditions such as prosopagnosia and autism impact brain development and cognitive organisation, and how do rehabilitation efforts come into play?
We use a variety of methods including behavioural experiments in the lab and on the web, visual psychophysics, studies of individuals with developmental deficits and brain damage, eye tracking, electroencephalography (EEG), and computational modelling, depending on the question at hand.
Chapman, A. F.*, Hawkins Elder, H.*, & Susilo, T. (2018). How robust is familiar face recognition? A repeat detection study of >1,000 faces. Royal Society Open Science. (* = equal contributions) [pdf]
Rezlescu, C., Susilo, T., Wilmer, J., & Caramazza, A. (2017). The inversion, part-whole, and composite effects reflect distinct perceptual mechanisms with varied relationships to face recognition. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 43, 1961-1973. [pdf]
Why face perception?
Face perception is fundamental to social life. We use faces for recognising people, reading their emotions and mental states, and following their attention. Face perception depends on special cognitive procedures that are carried out by a network of brain regions that contain face-selective cells. The face perception system interacts with other cognitive systems to guide social behaviour and drive complex actions. Face perception also attracts researchers from psychology, neuroscience, vision science, and computer science, making it a fruitful area for interdisciplinary work. All this makes face perception a good model problem for uncovering deeper principles that govern vision and cognition in the brain. More on research here.
A major focus of our research is prosopagnosia – the inability to recognise faces despite otherwise normal vision and cognition. Prosopagnosia is usually lifelong and caused by developmental or congenital disorder, but in rare cases prosopagnosia can be acquired following brain damage. Prosopagnosia tends to run in families, and it has negative impact on social life and work opportunities. Understanding prosopagnosia for its own sake is obviously important, but prosopagnosia also provides a powerful means to study how face perception works, and to address fundamental issues about organisation, development, specialisation, plasticity, and basic architecture of mind and brain. More on prosopagnosia here.