Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

, Volume 22, Issue 4, pp 974–979 | Cite as

Holistic processing does not require configural variability

  • Jennifer J. Richler
  • Thomas J. Palmeri
  • Isabel Gauthier
Brief Report


Using the Garner speeded classification task, Amishav and Kimchi (Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 17, 743–748, 2010) found that participants could selectively attend to face features: Classifying faces based on the shape of the eyes was not influenced by task-irrelevant variation in the shape of the mouth, and vice versa. This result contrasts with a large body of work using another selective attention task, the composite task, in which participants are unable to selectively attend to face parts: Same/different judgments for one-half of a composite face are influenced by the same/different status of the task-irrelevant half of that composite face. In Amishav and Kimchi, faces all shared a common configuration of face features. By contrast, configuration is typically never controlled in the composite task. We asked whether failures of selective attention observed in the composite task are caused by faces varying in both features and configuration. In two experiments, we found that participants exhibited failures of selective attention to face parts in the composite task even when configuration was held constant, which is inconsistent with Amishav and Kimchi’s conclusion that face features can be processed independently unless configuration varies. Although both measure failures of selective attention, the Garner task and composite task appear to measure different mechanisms involved in holistic face perception.


Face perception Selective attention 



This work was supported by the NSF (Grants SMA-1041755 and SBE-1257098) and NEI (Grants R01-EY013441 and P30-EY008126). The authors thank Jackie Floyd, Amit Khandhadia, Kaleb Lowe, David Nelwan, Emily Sauder, and Bikang Zhang for assistance with data collection, and Ruth Kimchi for providing her stimuli.


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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jennifer J. Richler
    • 1
  • Thomas J. Palmeri
    • 1
  • Isabel Gauthier
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyVanderbilt UniversityNashvilleUSA

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