, Volume 25, Issue 5, pp 583-592

Features and their configuration in face recognition

Abstract

Tanaka and Farah (1993) have proposed a holistic approach to face recognition in which information about the features of a face and their configuration are combined together in the face representation. An implication of the holistic hypothesis is that alterations in facial configuration should interfere with retrieval of features. In four experiments, the effect of configuration on feature recognition was investigated by creating two configurations of a face, one with eyes close together and one with eyes far apart. After subjects studied faces presented in one of the two configurations (eyes-close or eyes-far), they were tested for their recognition of features shown in isolation, in a new face configuration, and in the old face configuration. It was found that subjects recognized features best when presented in the old configuration, next best in the new configuration, and poorest in isolation. Moreover, subjects were not sensitive to configural information in inverted faces (Experiment 2) or nonface stimuli (i.e., houses; Experiments 3 and 4). Importantly, for normal faces, altering the spatial location of the eyes not only impaired subjects’ recognition of the eye features but also impaired their recognition of the nose and mouth features—features whose spatial locations were not directly altered. These findings emphasize the interdependency of featural and configural information in a holistic face representation.

This research was supported by a Hughes Research Grant, Keck Foundation Faculty Research Award, and NIH Grant R15 HD30433.