Brief Report

Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

, Volume 21, Issue 6, pp 1473-1480

First online:

Face-specific capacity limits under perceptual load do not depend on holistic processing

  • Volker ThomaAffiliated withSchool of Psychology, University of East London Email author 

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Previous observations that face recognition may proceed automatically, without drawing on attentional resources, have been challenged by recent demonstrations that only a few faces can be processed at one time. However, a question remains about the nature of the stimulus properties that underlie face-specific capacity limits. Two experiments showed that speeded categorization of a famous face (such as a politician or pop star) is facilitated when it is congruent with a peripheral distractor face. This congruency effect is eliminated if the visual search is loaded with more than one face, unlike previous demonstrations of speeded classification using semantic information. Importantly, congruency effects are also eliminated when the search task is loaded with nontarget faces that are shown in an inverted orientation. These results indicate that face-specific capacity limits are not determined by the configural (“holistic”) properties of face recognition.


Attention Face perception Face recognition Visual search Capacity limitations Modularity