Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Association and Dissociation between Detection and Discrimination of Objects of Expertise: Evidence from Visual Search

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Association and Dissociation between Detection and Discrimination of Objects of Expertise: Evidence from Visual Search

Article excerpt

Published online: 12 December 2013

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2013

Abstract Expertise in face recognition is characterized by high proficiency in distinguishing between individual faces. However, faces also enjoy an advantage at the early stage of basic-level detection, as demonstrated by efficient visual search for faces among nonface objects. In the present study, we asked (1) whether the face advantage in detection is a unique signature of face expertise, or whether it generalizes to other objects of expertise, and (2) whether expertise in face detection is intrinsically linked to expertise in face individuation. We compared how groups with varying degrees of object and face expertise (typical adults, developmental prosopagnosics [DP], and car experts) search for objects within and outside their domains of expertise (faces, cars, airplanes, and butterflies) among a variable set of object distractors. Across all three groups, search efficiency (indexed by reaction time slopes) was higher for faces and airplanes than for cars and butterflies. Notably, the search slope for car targets was considerably shallower in the car experts than in nonexperts. Although the mean face slope was slightly steeper among the DPs than in the other two groups, most of the DPs' search slopes were well within the normative range. This pattern of results suggests that expertise in object detection is indeed associated with expertise at the subordinate level, that it is not specific to faces, and that the two types of expertise are distinct facilities. We discuss the potential role of experience in bridging between low-level discriminative features and high-level naturalistic categories.

Keywords Visual search · Face perception · Perceptual categorization · Developmental prosopagnosia · Perceptual expertise

Human face perception is a striking example of visual exper- tise (Tanaka, 2001). Discriminating between and recognizing individual faces should be a difficult perceptual task, as faces form a highly homogeneous set of stimuli with a very similar spatial configuration of parts. Nonetheless, humans are ex- tremely adept at recognizing individual faces (e.g., Moscovitch, Winocur, & Behrmann, 1997; Tanaka, 2001). This remarkable human skill in individuating faces is achieved through a num- ber of specialized processing mechanisms, broadly termed "holistic" (for a review, see Maurer, Grand, & Mondloch, 2002).1 Holistic processing implies the joint processing of the constituting parts of the object (including their relative location and metric distances) and is distinguished from the piecemeal processing of individual object parts that is more characteristic of standard object recognition (DeGutis, Wilmer, Mercado, & Cohan, 2013; Richler, Cheung, & Gauthier, 2011).

Although the hallmark of face expertise is enhanced within-category discrimination (also known as subordinate categorization), face recognition also entails a between- category advantage, that is, faces are more easily categorized relative to other object categories at the basic-level (i.e., "a face" relative to "acar"; Anaki & Bentin, 2009; Harel & Bentin, 2009; Harel, Ullman, Epshtein, & Bentin, 2007). This advantage is manifest in the categorization of single objects, as well as in more ecological and computationally demanding tasks, such as the detection of faces among other objects (Hershler, Golan, Bentin, & Hochstein, 2010; Hershler & Hochstein, 2005). However, relative to face individuation, much less is known about the mechanisms underlying the basic-level face advantage, in particular how it is related to within-category face individuation (for discussion, see Harel & Bentin, 2009). Specifically, the question is whether exper- tise in detecting faces is part of the greater expertise in face individuation (for example, by channeling the first-order feature information for later specialized second order process- ing), or whether the two aspects of advantageous face processing are independent perceptual phenomena acquired simultaneously with increasing experience. …

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