Brief Reports

Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

, Volume 15, Issue 5, pp 933-939

First online:

The representations of spacing and part-based information are associated for upright faces but dissociated for objects: Evidence from individual differences

  • Galit YovelAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Tel Aviv University Email author 
  • , Nancy KanwisherAffiliated withMassachusetts Institute of Technology


Considerable evidence suggests that qualitatively different processes are involved in the perception of faces and objects. According to a central hypothesis, the extraction of information about the spacing among face parts (e.g., eyes and mouth) is a primary function of face processing mechanisms that is dissociated from the extraction of information about the shape of these parts. Here, we used an individual-differences approach to test whether the shape of face parts and the spacing among them are indeed processed by dissociated mechanisms. To determine whether the pattern of findings that we reveal is unique for upright faces, we also presented similarly manipulated nonface stimuli. Subjects discriminated upright or inverted faces or houses that differed in parts or spacing. Only upright faces yielded a large positive correlation across subjects between performance on the spacing and part discrimination tasks. We found no such correlation for inverted faces or houses. Our findings suggest that face parts and spacing are processed by associated mechanisms, whereas the parts and spacing of nonface objects are processed by distinct mechanisms. These results may be consistent with the idea that faces are special, in that they are processed as nondecomposable wholes.