Two faces of holistic face processing

Haiyang JIN, Luyan JI, Olivia S. CHEUNG, William G. HAYWARD

Research output: Journal PublicationsConference Abstractpeer-review


People tend to process multiple facial parts together as a perceptual gestalt. This holistic face processing is usually measured by three popular paradigms: part-whole task (PW; Tanaka & Farah, 1993), standard composite face task (SCF; Hole, 1994; Rossion, 2013), and complete composite face task (CCF; Richler & Gauthier, 2014). Yet, the specific aspects of holistic processing they are testing remain unclear, since these paradigms do not appear to measure the same construct (e.g., Rezlescu, Susilo, Wilmer, & Caramazza, 2017). We propose that one way these paradigms can be conceptualized is in how they demonstrate the influence of holistic processing: facilitation or interference. In the PW, the same irrelevant facial parts facilitate identification performance for target parts. In the SCF, changing the bottom facial halves interferes with the recognition of aligned top halves. In the CCF, the irrelevant facial halves in congruent and incongruent trials facilitate and interfere with the processing of aligned target halves, respectively. In our study, we inspected both facilitation and interference effects in the CCF, and their dependency on target positions and cueing target probabilities. Thirty-two participants completed the CCF with cues in Experiment 1. In addition to observing the composite face effects, facilitation was observed for both top and bottom facial halves, while interference was only found for the top halves. Another thirty-two participants were recruited in Experiment 2, where the probability of cueing the top (25%/75%) was manipulated. Facilitation was observed for top halves when cueing top probability was high, whereas interference was observed for top halves regardless of cueing top probabilities. These results suggest that the two faces of holistic face processing, facilitation and interference, are not symmetric effects. As such, these findings help explain why the PW (facilitation) and the SCF (interference) tasks may show divergent effects.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2553
Number of pages1
JournalJournal of Vision
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2021
Externally publishedYes
EventThe 21st Annual Meeting of the Vision Sciences Society, 2021 -
Duration: 21 May 202126 May 2021

Bibliographical note

This work was funded by a grant (HKU17608519) from the General Research Fund of the Hong Kong Research Grants Council to William G. Hayward.


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