August 2012
Volume 12, Issue 9
Free
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   August 2012
The role of symmetry in the efficiency of detecting, discriminating and identifying human faces
Author Affiliations
  • Jennifer L. Bittner
    Indiana University, Bloomington
  • Michael Simmons
    Indiana University, Bloomington
  • Jason M. Gold
    Indiana University, Bloomington
Journal of Vision August 2012, Vol.12, 626. doi:10.1167/12.9.626
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      Jennifer L. Bittner, Michael Simmons, Jason M. Gold; The role of symmetry in the efficiency of detecting, discriminating and identifying human faces. Journal of Vision 2012;12(9):626. doi: 10.1167/12.9.626.

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Abstract

The presence of symmetric properties in a stimulus has been thought to often exert an influence on perception and information processing (e.g., Koffka, 1935; Kohler, 1947; Tyler, 2002). Investigations in this field have given rise to the general notion that symmetry is processed easily and efficiently by the human visual system (e.g., Little & Jones 2003; Scognamillo, Rhodes, Morrone, & Burr, 2003). However, only a handful of studies have attempted to actually measure the role that symmetry plays in the efficiency of information use (e.g., Barlow, 1979; Liu & Kersten, 2003). In our experiments, we explored the impact of symmetry within the area of face perception, a domain where symmetry has been thought to play a particularly important role (e.g., Epley & Whitchurch, 2008; Little & Jones, 2003; Onionen & Mazmanian, 2007; Wilson, Wilkinson, Lin, & Castillo, 2000). Specifically, we measured information processing efficiency, defined as the performance of a human observer relative to that of an ideal observer, for the detection, discrimination, and identification of symmetric and asymmetric versions of unfamiliar male and female faces. We found no evidence for significant differences in efficiency between asymmetric and symmetric conditions within all three of our paradigms, with analogous results across the genders of our face stimuli and the genders of our participants. We conducted a second experiment that was designed to explore the possible influence of learning and familiarity on relative efficiency for symmetric and asymmetric faces. Although training yielded significant improvements in absolute efficiency, it had no significant effect upon the relative efficiency between asymmetric and symmetric faces. Our results indicate that, although symmetry may play an important role in other aspects of face perception (e.g., perceived beauty), it has no discernible impact upon the efficiency with which information is used when detecting, discriminating, and identifying faces.

Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2012

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