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Richard Russell, Pawan Sinha, Marissa Nederhouser, Irving Biederman; The importance of pigmentation for face recognition. Journal of Vision 2004;4(8):418. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/4.8.418.
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Though shape is considered to be the dominant attribute used for basic-level object recognition, less is known about the roles of shape and pigmentation in face recognition. Sets of faces were created that varied only in shape (with a mean pigmentation) or only in pigmentation (with a mean shape), or varied in both shape and pigmentation. The differences among the stimuli in all three conditions were equivalent by a Gabor jet measure of image similarity. In a delayed match-to-sample task (where the distractor could differ from the matching stimulus in shape, pigmentation, or both attributes), subject responses indicated that both shape and pigmentation cues were important, though shape cues were slightly more so. This result is somewhat inconsistent with recent evidence (Greene, Russell, & Biederman, 2004, VSS) that adaptation of the N170 is highly sensitive to face shape but minimally sensitive to face pigmentation. However, the contribution of pigmentation cues became manifest when these same faces were presented in photographic negative. In this setting, subjects were unimpaired at using shape cues for recognition, but were highly impaired at using pigmentation cues. Thus, disruption in the processing of pigmentation cues may account for the observed difficulty in recognizing negated faces. The large effect of negation on pigmentation may be special to faces in that the matching of smooth, blobby objects with face-like albedo on their surface, as well as normal objects, is only minimally impaired by presentation in photographic negative (Nederhouser et al., 2003). The overall conclusion we draw from these results is that pigmentation information provides an important cue for face recognition.
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