Holistic Processing Predicts Face Recognition

Psychological Science 2011
Jennifer J. Richler (1), Olivia S. Cheung (2) & Isabel Gauthier (1)
(1) Vanderbilt University
(2) Martinos Center, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School

The concept of holistic processing (HP) is a cornerstone of face recognition research. We demonstrate that HP predicts face recognition abilities on the Cambridge Face Memory Test and a perceptual face identification task. Our findings validate a large body of work on face recognition that relies on the assumption that HP is related to face recognition. They also reconcile the study of face recognition with the perceptual expertise work it inspired, which links HP of objects to our ability to individuate them. Our results differ from a recent study showing no link between HP and face recognition. The discrepancy can be attributed to the use in prior work of a popular but flawed measure of HP. Our findings salvage the central role of HP in face recognition while casting doubt on a subset of the face perception literature that relies on the problematic measure of HP.

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