Brief Reports

Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

, Volume 6, Issue 4, pp 647-653

First online:

Figural aftereffects in the perception of faces

  • Michael A. WebsterAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology/296, University of Nevada Email author 
  • , Otto H. MaclinAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology/296, University of Nevada


We examined figural aftereffects in images of human faces, for which changes in configuration are highly discriminable. Observers either matched or rated faces before or after viewing distorted images of faces. Prior adaptation strongly biases face perception by causing the original face to appear distorted in a direction opposite to the adapting distortion. Aftereffects transferred across different faces and were similar for upright or inverted faces, but were weaker when the adapting and test faces had different orientations (e.g., adapt inverted and test upright). Thus the aftereffects depend on which images are distorted, and not simply on the type of distortion introduced. We further show that the aftereffects are asymmetric, for adapting to the original face has little effect on the perception of a distorted face. This asymmetry suggests that adaptation may play an important normalizing role in face perception. Our results suggest that in normal viewing, figural aftereffects may strongly influence form perception and could provide a novel method for probing properties of human face perception.