Sensitivity to feature displacement in familiar and unfamiliar faces

Beyond the internal/external feature distinction

Kevin R. Brooks*, Richard I. Kemp

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

18 Citations (Scopus)


Previous studies of face recognition and of face matching have shown a general improvement for the processing of internal features as a face becomes more familiar to the participant. In this study, we used a psychophysical two-alternative forced-choice paradigm to investigate thresholds for the detection of a displacement of the eyes, nose, mouth, or ears for familiar and unfamiliar faces. No clear division between internal and external features was observed. Rather, for familiar (compared to unfamiliar) faces participants were more sensitive to displacements of internal features such as the eyes or the nose; yet, for our third internal feature-the mouth-no such difference was observed. Despite large displacements, many subjects were unable to perform above chance when stimuli involved shifts in the position of the ears. These results are consistent with the proposal that familiarity effects may be mediated by the construction of a robust representation of a face, although the involvement of attention in the encoding of face stimuli cannot be ruled out. Furthermore, these effects are mediated by information from a spatial configuration of features, rather than by purely feature-based information.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1646-1659
Number of pages14
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 2007
Externally publishedYes

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