Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Losing Face: Impaired Discrimination of Featural and Configural Information in the Mouth Region of an Inverted Face

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Losing Face: Impaired Discrimination of Featural and Configural Information in the Mouth Region of an Inverted Face

Article excerpt

Published online: 30 January 2014

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

Abstract Given that all faces share the same set of features-two eyes, a nose, and a mouth-that are arranged in similar configuration, recognition of a specific face must depend on our ability to discern subtle differences in its featural and configural properties. An enduring question in the face-processing literature is whether featural or configural information plays a larger role in the recognition process. To address this question, the face dimensions task was designed, in which the featural and configural properties in the upper (eye) and lower (mouth) regions of a face were parametrically and independently manipulated. In a same-different task, two faces were sequentially presented and tested in their upright or in their inverted orientation. Inversion disrupted the perception of featural size (Exp. 1), featural shape (Exp. 2), and configural changes in the mouth region, but it had relatively little effect on the discrimination of featural size and shape and configural differences in the eye region. Inversion had little effect on the perception of information in the top and bottom halves of houses (Exp. 3), suggesting that the lower-half impairment was specific to faces. Spatial cueing to the mouth region eliminated the inversion effect (Exp. 4), suggesting that participants have a bias to attend to the eye region of an inverted face. The collective findings from these experiments suggest that inversion does not differentially impair featural or configural face perceptions, but rather impairs the perception of information in the mouth region of the face.

Keywords Face perception . Face recognition . Object recognition

All faces are created equal, in the sense that they all contain the same set of facial features: two eyes, a nose, and a mouth. Moreover, these features are arranged in a common configuration in which the eyes are situated above the central nose feature, which is located above the mouth. Therefore, our ability to quickly and accurately differentiate one face from another must depend on resolving the relatively subtle differ- ences in their featural and configural qualities. In this article, we examine the roles of featural and configural information in face perception and how their contributions might vary as a function of their location in the upper (eye) and lower (mouth) halves of the face stimulus.

In the face perception literature, it has been well established that inversion disproportionately impairs recognition of faces, relative to the discrimination of other, nonface objects (e.g., airplanes, stick figures, birds, cars; Yin, 1969). The so-called face inversion effect is a robust phenomenon that has been demonstrated across a wide variety of study-test paradigms in which the encoding study item, the test item, or both the study and test items are shown in their inverted orientations. The effect has been reported in tests of perceptual matching (Goffaux & Rossion, 2007; Riesenhuber, Jarudi, Gilad, & Sinha, 2004), immediate memory (Leder & Carbon, 2006; Rhodes, Brake, & Atkinson, 1993), and long-term recognition memory (Valentine & Bruce, 1986). Some face recognition researchers have suggested that understanding how inversion affects face perception might provide insight into the process- es that uniquely distinguish face recognition from other forms of object recognition (Valentine, 1988). A critical question then is, Are featural and configural information differentially impaired by inversion?

This question has proven to be both theoretically contro- versial and empirically challenging. On one side of the issue, proponents of the configural-processing view1 argue that sen- sitivity to the spatial relations between the features of a face (e.g., distance between the eyes or distance between the nose and mouth) is differentially disrupted through inversion (Freire, Lee, & Symons, 2000; Le Grand, Mondloch, Maurer, & Brent, 2001; Maurer, Le Grand, & Mondloch, 2002; Mondloch, Le Grand, & Maurer, 2002). …

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