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Isabelle Bulthoff, Sarah Shrimpton, Betty J. Mohler, Ian M. Thornton; Using avatars to explore height/pitch effects when learning new faces. Journal of Vision 2011;11(11):596. doi: 10.1167/11.11.596.
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In a previous series of desktop experiments we found no evidence that individuals' height influenced their representation of others' faces or their ability to process faces viewed from above or below (VSS 2009). However, in those experiments face orientation and body height were ambiguous as isolated faces were shown on a computer screen to an observer sitting on a chair. To address those concerns and to specifically examine the influence of learned viewpoint, we created a virtual museum containing 20 full-bodied avatars (statues) that were either sitting or standing. Using a head-mounted display, observers walked through this virtual space three times, approached each statue and viewed them from any horizontal (yaw) angle without time restrictions. We equated eye-level - and thus simulated height – for all participants and restricted their vertical movement to ensure that the faces of sitting avatars were always viewed from above and standing avatars from below. After familiarization, recognition was tested using a standard old-new paradigm in which 2D images of the learnt faces were shown from various viewpoints. Results showed a clear influence of learned viewpoint. Faces that had been learned from above (below) were recognized more quickly and accurately in that orientation than from the opposite orientation. Thus, recognition of specific, newly learned faces appears to be view-dependent in terms of pitch angle. Our failure to find a height effect in our previous study suggests that the variety of views of human faces experienced during a lifetime and possibly the preponderance of conversational situations between humans at close range typically counteracts any influence that body size might have on a person's viewing experience of others' faces.
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