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Perception. 2002;31(10):1221-40.

Effects of geometric distortions on face-recognition performance.

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School of Cognitive and Computing Sciences, University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton, UK.


The importance of 'configural' processing for face recognition is now well established, but it remains unclear precisely what it entails. Through four experiments we attempted to clarify the nature of configural processing by investigating the effects of various affine transformations on the recognition of familiar faces. Experiment 1 showed that recognition was markedly impaired by inversion of faces, somewhat impaired by shearing or horizontally stretching them, but unaffected by vertical stretching of faces to twice their normal height. In experiment 2 we investigated vertical and horizontal stretching in more detail, and found no effects of either transformation. Two further experiments were performed to determine whether participants were recognising stretched faces by using configural information. Experiment 3 showed that nonglobal vertical stretching of faces (stretching either the top or the bottom half while leaving the remainder undistorted) impaired recognition, implying that configural information from the stretched part of the face was influencing the process of recognition--ie that configural processing involves global facial properties. In experiment 4 we examined the effects of Gaussian blurring on recognition of undistorted and vertically stretched faces. Faces remained recognisable even when they were both stretched and blurred, implying that participants were basing their judgments on configural information from these stimuli, rather than resorting to some strategy based on local featural details. The tolerance of spatial distortions in human face recognition suggests that the configural information used as a basis for face recognition is unlikely to involve information about the absolute position of facial features relative to each other, at least not in any simple way.

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