Enhanced facial discrimination: effects of experience with American Sign Language

Año: 1997
Editorial: Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, nº 2 (1997) pp. 223-233
Tipo de código: Copyright
Soporte: Digital


Lingüística » Lingüística de otras Lenguas de Signos


On-line comprehension of American Sign Language (ASL) requires rapid discrimination of linguistic facial expressions. We hypothesized that ASL signers' experience discriminating linguistic facial expressions might lead to enhanced performance for discriminating among different faces. Five experiments are reported that investigate signers' and non-signers' ability to discriminate human faces photographed under different conditions of orientation and lighting (the Benton Test of Facial Recognition). The results showed that deaf signers performed significantly better than hearing non-signers. Hearing native signers (born to deaf parents) also performed better than hearing nonsigners, suggesting that the enhanced performance of deaf signers is linked to experience with ASL rather than to auditory deprivation. Deaf signers who acquired ASL in early adulthood did not differ from native signers, which suggests that there is no 'critical period' during which signers must be exposed to ASL in order to exhibit enhanced face discrimination abilities. When the faces were inverted, signing and nonsigning groups did not differ in performance. This pattern of results suggests that experience with sign language affects mechanisms specific to face processing and does not produce a general enhancement of visual discrimination. Finally, a similar pattern of results was found with signing and nonsigning children, 6-9 years old. Overall, the results suggest that the brain mechanisms responsible for face processing are somewhat plastic and can be affected by experience. We discuss implications of these results for the relation between language and cognition.