Two routes to face perception: Evidence from psychophysics and computational modeling

Adrian Schwaninger, Janek S. Lobmaier, Christian Wallraven, Stephan Collishaw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


The aim of this study was to separately analyze the role of featural and configural face representations. Stimuli containing only featural information were created by cutting the faces into their parts and scrambling them. Stimuli only containing configural information were created by blurring the faces. Employing an old-new recognition task, the aim of Experiments 1 and 2 was to investigate whether unfamiliar faces (Exp. 1) or familiar faces (Exp. 2) can be recognized if only featural or configural information is provided. Both scrambled and blurred faces could be recognized above chance level. A further aim of Experiments 1 and 2 was to investigate whether our method of creating configural and featural stimuli is valid. Pre-activation of one form of representation did not facilitate recognition of the other, neither for unfamiliar faces (Exp. 1) nor for familiar faces (Exp. 2). This indicates a high internal validity of our method for creating configural and featural face stimuli. Experiment 3 examined whether features placed in their correct categorical relational position but with distorted metrical distances facilitated recognition of unfamiliar faces. These faces were recognized no better than the scrambled faces in Experiment 1, providing further evidence that facial features are stored independently of configural information. From these results we conclude that both featural and configural information are important to recognize a face and argue for a dual-mode hypothesis of face processing. Using the psychophysical results as motivation, we propose a computational framework that implements featural and configural processing routes using an appearance-based representation based on local features and their spatial relations. In three computational experiments (Experiments 4-6) using the same sets of stimuli, we show how this framework is able to model the psychophysical data.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1413-1440
Number of pages28
JournalCognitive Science
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2009 Nov
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Artificial Intelligence


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