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Perception. 2001;30(1):73-83.

Configural features in the context of upright and inverted faces.

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Department of Psychology, Free University of Berlin, Habelschwerdter Allee 45, D 14195 Berlin, Germany.


When faces are turned upside down, recognition is known to be severely disrupted. This effect is thought to be due to disruption of configural processing. Recently, Leder and Bruce (2000, Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology A 53 513-536) argued that configural information in face processing consists at least partly of locally processed relations between facial elements. In three experiments we investigated whether a local relational feature (the interocular distance) is processed differently in upside-down versus upright faces. In experiment 1 participants decided in which of two sequentially presented photographic faces the interocular distance was larger. The decision was more difficult in upside-down presentation. Three different conditions were used in experiment 2 to investigate whether this deficit depends upon parts of the face beyond the eyes themselves; displays showed the eye region alone, the eyes and nose, or the eyes and nose and mouth. The availability of additional features did not interact with the inversion effect which was observed strongly even when the eyes were shown in isolation. In experiment 3 all eyes were turned upside down in the inverted face condition as in the Thatcher illusion (Thompson, 1980 Perception 9 483-484). In this case no inversion effect was found. These results are in accordance with an explanation of the face-inversion effect in which the disruption of configural facial information plays the critical role in memory for faces, and in which configural information corresponds to spatial information that is processed in a way which is sensitive to local properties of the facial features involved.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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