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Robert Keys, Jessica Taubert, Susan Wardle; A visual search advantage for illusory faces in inanimate objects. Journal of Vision 2018;18(10):172. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/18.10.172.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
The spontaneous misperception of a face in an inanimate object—face pareidolia—is a common experience. This readiness to perceive faces might indicate a broadly-tuned mechanism that facilitates rapid face detection in cluttered environments. Although several studies have reported a visual search advantage for real faces, it is unclear to what degree this is driven by low-level features characteristic of faces. A key feature of pareidolia is that face perception occurs in the absence of the typical visual properties. Here we used a visual search paradigm to investigate whether there is a visual search advantage for naturally-occurring illusory faces in inanimate objects. In Experiment 1 (N = 18), search targets were 26 examples of face pareidolia in everyday objects (e.g., cheese graters, electrical sockets), and a yoked set of 26 objects matched for object content, but without illusory faces. Each yoked target pair had a corresponding set of 64 unique object-matched distractors. Participants searched for targets amongst 16, 32, or 64 matched distractors in an 8×8 grid display. In Experiment 2 (N = 18), search targets were 23 illusory faces, 23 matched objects, and 23 real faces. Participants searched for targets amongst 4, 8, or 16 diverse distractors in a circular display. Search times were faster for illusory faces than for matched objects amongst both highly homogenous (Experiment 1) and heterogeneous (Experiment 2) distractors. We found no interaction between set size and target type in Experiment 1, suggesting that despite faster overall search times, illusory faces do not 'pop-out' amongst matched objects. In Experiment 2, search times for real faces were faster and more efficient than for illusory faces or matched objects. The results indicate that face-like features improve visual search, and are consistent with the view that low-level visual properties may drive previous reports of pop-out for real faces.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2018
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