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Richard Le Grand, James Tanaka; Parts and wholes in emotional expressions. Journal of Vision 2004;4(8):906. doi: 10.1167/4.8.906.
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Adults' expertise in face recognition relies upon holistic processing. When a stimulus is detected as a face, its parts become integrated into a whole or Gestalt-like representation, making information about individual features less accessible. A compelling demonstration is the whole/part advantage: adults are much better at recognizing the features from an individual's face in the context of the whole face than in isolation (Tanaka & Farah, 1993). In the present study we investigated whether holistic processing is also engaged for another aspect of face processing, the recognition of emotional expressions. This is of interest because previous research has shown that processing facial identity and facial expressions are dissociable functions that involve separate systems. Adult participants were presented with a target face stimulus displaying either a congruent emotional expression (e.g., happy eyes and happy mouth) or an incongruent emotional expression (e.g., angry eyes and happy mouth). In the whole face condition, participants were then shown two faces, the target and a foil that differed from the target in the emotional expression of one feature (either the eyes or mouth). In the isolated-part condition, participants were presented with one feature from the target face and a foil feature displaying a different emotion. Participants were instructed to find the target face (whole face condition) or the target feature (isolated-part condition). We predicted that for congruent trials, participants would be better at identifying the features in the whole face than when presented as isolated parts (the whole/part advantage). In contrast, we predicted that for incongruent trials, participants would be better at identifying the features as isolated parts than when presented in the whole face. We discuss the results in terms of how holistic processing is engaged in normal adults and individuals with face processing deficits (i.e., prosopagnosia and autism).
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