When the Brain Remembers But the Patient Doesn’t

Unconscious brain activity demonstrated in a case of prosopagnosia

Milan, Italy, July 14, 2011 – Brain damage can cause significant changes in behaviour, such as loss of cognitive skills, but also reveals much about how the nervous system deals with consciousness. New findings reported in the July 2011 issue of Elsevier’sCortex demonstrate how the unconscious brain continues to process information even when the conscious brain is incapacitated.

Dr Stéphane Simon and collaborators in Professor Alan Pegna’s laboratory at Geneva University Hospital, studied a patient brain damaged in an accident who had developed prosopagnosia, or face blindness. They measured her non-conscious responses to familiar faces, using different physiological measures of brain activity, including fMRI and EEG. The patient was shown photographs of unknown and famous people, some of whom were famous before the onset of her prosopagnosia (and others who had become famous more recently). Despite the fact that the patient could not recognize any of the famous faces, her brain activity responded to the faces that she would have recognized before the onset of her condition.

“The results of this study demonstrate that implicit processing might continue to occur despite the presence of an apparent impairment in conscious processing,” says Professor Pegna, “The study has also shed light on what is required for our brain to understand what we see around us. Together with other research findings, this study suggests that the collaboration of several cerebral structures in a specific temporal order is necessary for visual awareness to arise.”
 

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Notes to Editors
The article is “When the brain remembers, but the patient doesn’t: Converging fMRI and EEG evidence for covert recognition in a case of prosopagnosia” by Stéphane R. Simon, Asaid Khateb, Alexandra Darque, François Lazeyras, Eugene Mayer, and Alan J. Pegna, and appears in Cortex, Volume 47, Issue 7 (July 2010)published by Elsevier in Italy. Full text of the article featured above is available to members of the media upon request. Please contact the Elsevier press office, newsroom@elsevier.com. To schedule an interview, contact Professor Alan Pegna, Alan.Pegna@hcuge.ch.

About Cortex
Cortex is an international journal devoted to the study of cognition and of the relationship between the nervous system and mental processes, particularly as these are reflected in the behaviour of patients with acquired brain lesions, normal volunteers, children with typical and atypical development, and in the activation of brain regions and systems as recorded by functional neuroimaging techniques. It was founded in 1964 by Ennio De Renzi. The Editor in-chief of Cortex is Sergio Della Sala, Professor of Human Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh. Fax: 0131 6513230, e-mail: cortex@ed.ac.ukCortex is available online at  http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/00109452

About Elsevier

Elsevier is a world-leading provider of information solutions that enhance the performance of science, health, and technology professionals, empowering them to make better decisions, deliver better care, and sometimes make groundbreaking discoveries that advance the boundaries of knowledge and human progress. Elsevier provides web-based, digital solutions — among them ScienceDirect, Scopus, Elsevier Research Intelligence,and ClinicalKey—and publishes over 2,200 journals, including The Lancet and Cell, and over 25,000 book titles, including a number of iconic reference works.

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Media contact
Laura Fabri
Elsevier
+39 02 8818 4353
l.fabri@elsevier.com