Holistic face representation is highly orientation-specific Academic Article uri icon


  • It has long been argued that face processing requires disproportionate reliance on holistic processing (HP), relative to that required for nonface object recognition. Nevertheless, whether the holistic nature of face perception is achieved via a unique internal representation or by the employment of an automated attention mechanism is still debated. Previous studies had used the face inversion effect (FIE), a unique face-processing marker, or the face composite task, a gold standard paradigm measuring holistic processing, to examine the validity of these two different hypotheses, with some studies combining the two paradigms. However, the results of such studies remain inconclusive, particularly pertaining to the issue of the two proposed HP mechanisms—an internal representation as opposed to an automated attention mechanism. Here, using the complete composite paradigm design, we aimed to examine whether face rotation yields a nonlinear or a linear drop in HP, thus supporting an account that face processing is based either on an orientation-dependent internal representation or on automated attention. Our results reveal that even a relatively small perturbation in face orientation (30 deg away from upright) already causes a sharp decline in HP. These findings support the face internal representation hypothesis and the notion that the holistic processing of faces is highly orientation-specific.

publication date

  • January 1, 2018