September 2015
Volume 15, Issue 12
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   September 2015
What is holistic processing, and is it related to face perception?
Author Affiliations
  • Constantin Rezlescu
    Department of Psychology, Harvard University, USA Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, UK
  • Tirta Susilo
    Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Dartmouth College, USA
  • Alfonso Caramazza
    Department of Psychology, Harvard University, USA
Journal of Vision September 2015, Vol.15, 932. doi:
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      Constantin Rezlescu, Tirta Susilo, Alfonso Caramazza; What is holistic processing, and is it related to face perception?. Journal of Vision 2015;15(12):932. doi:

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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Despite its central role in the face perception literature, holistic processing remains a poorly defined theoretical construct. Researchers investigating holistic processing typically use an operational definition, namely the size of the effect in classic paradigms such as the inversion, composite, and part-whole tasks. A basic hypothesis is that these effects tap the same mechanisms, and that they are important in accounting for variations in face perception abilities. Here we tested this hypothesis in an individual differences study (n=80). Face perception abilities were measured with the Cambridge Face Perception Test (CFPT) and a Face Matching task (FaceMatch). The holistic-related measures were the face composite effect, the part-whole effect, and the inversion effects obtained in the CFPT and FaceMatch. Inversion effects were also computed for the face composite and the part-whole tasks. We report three main findings. First, inconsistent with the hypothesis that they measure the same construct, the inversion, composite, and part-whole effects were not correlated (correlations between .01 and .19). Second, none of the holistic effects predicted face perception abilities. Third, the four inversion effects were not correlated (correlations between -.16 and .19; the correlation between the two most similar face inversion measures, derived from CFPT and FaceMatch, was .01). The lack of correlations between measures of interest is unlikely to be a methodological artifact because we found other predicted correlations (e.g. between CFPT and FaceMatch). We replicated the results with a subset of the original participants (n=58) and with a new group of undergraduate students (n=27). Our results indicate that the inversion, composite, and part-whole effects likely reflect the operation of distinct mechanisms. Furthermore, these mechanisms do not seem to influence face perception abilities across individuals in a significant way. The results challenge the traditional notion of holistic processing and the role of holistic processing in face perception.

Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2015


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