Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

, Volume 21, Issue 4, pp 969–975 | Cite as

Visual adaptation of the perception of “life”: Animacy is a basic perceptual dimension of faces

  • Kami KoldewynEmail author
  • Patricia Hanus
  • Benjamin Balas
Brief Report


One critical component of understanding another’s mind is the perception of “life” in a face. However, little is known about the cognitive and neural mechanisms underlying this perception of animacy. Here, using a visual adaptation paradigm, we ask whether face animacy is (1) a basic dimension of face perception and (2) supported by a common neural mechanism across distinct face categories defined by age and species. Observers rated the perceived animacy of adult human faces before and after adaptation to (1) adult faces, (2) child faces, and (3) dog faces. When testing the perception of animacy in human faces, we found significant adaptation to both adult and child faces, but not dog faces. We did, however, find significant adaptation when morphed dog images and dog adaptors were used. Thus, animacy perception in faces appears to be a basic dimension of face perception that is species specific but not constrained by age categories.


Social cognition Face perception Animacy Face adaptation 



This study was supported, in part, by a grant from the Simons Foundation to the Simons Center for the Social Brain at MIT. B.B. was supported by NIGMS #P20 GM103505 and ND EPSCoR NSF #EPS-0814442.


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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kami Koldewyn
    • 1
    • 3
    Email author
  • Patricia Hanus
    • 1
  • Benjamin Balas
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Brain and Cognitive Science and McGovern Institute for Brain ResearchMassachusetts Institute of TechnologyCambridgeUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyNorth Dakota State UniversityFargoUSA
  3. 3.School of PsychologyBangor UniversityBangorUK

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