Holistic face perception is modulated by experience-dependent perceptual grouping

Kim M. Curby*, Robert J. Entenman, Justin T. Fleming

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


What role do general-purpose, experience-sensitive perceptual mechanisms play in producing characteristic features of face perception? We previously demonstrated that different-colored, misaligned framing backgrounds, designed to disrupt perceptual grouping of face parts appearing upon them, disrupt holistic face perception. In the current experiments, a similar part-judgment task with composite faces was performed: face parts appeared in either misaligned, different-colored rectangles or aligned, same-colored rectangles. To investigate whether experience can shape impacts of perceptual grouping on holistic face perception, a pre-task fostered the perception of either (a) the misaligned, differently colored rectangle frames as parts of a single, multicolored polygon or (b) the aligned, same-colored rectangle frames as a single square shape. Faces appearing in the misaligned, differently colored rectangles were processed more holistically by those in the polygon-, compared with the square-, pre-task group. Holistic effects for faces appearing in aligned, same-colored rectangles showed the opposite pattern. Experiment 2, which included a pre-task condition fostering the perception of the aligned, same-colored frames as pairs of independent rectangles, provided converging evidence that experience can modulate impacts of perceptual grouping on holistic face perception. These results are surprising given the proposed impenetrability of holistic face perception and provide insights into the elusive mechanisms underlying holistic perception.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1392-1404
Number of pages13
JournalAttention, Perception and Psychophysics
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2016


  • Face perception
  • Object recognition
  • Object-based attention


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