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Todd A. Kelley, Marvin M. Chun; Attentional requirements of face discrimination. Journal of Vision 2002;2(7):613. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/2.7.613.
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Face recognition is one of the most important types of visual discriminations that people make, and accordingly, there is evidence of specialized face processing in the brain. Does such specialized processing imply that faces may be perceived without attention? A recent study demonstrated that face processing was resistant to dual-task interference, suggesting that attention was not needed (Awh et al., 2001). Here, we present contrary evidence that indicates attention is indeed necessary to perceive faces. This experiment uses the attentional blink paradigm: subjects were shown a series of rapidly presented letters and were instructed to attend to a red letter (T1) occurring in the series and then to a face (T2) that appeared in the same location after a brief, variable interval. Subjects were then asked to identify the red letter and the face. Accuracy on the face task was significantly impaired when it appeared within 500 ms of the primary letter task, demonstrating a classic attentional blink. Thus, face recognition requires attention.
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