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Publication Detail
Radial bias in face identification

Peripheral vision in humans is characterized by a preference for radially oriented stimuli (pointing towards the fovea), which tend to be better perceived than tangentially oriented stimuli in a wide variety of tasks (e.g., experiments measuring contrast, spatial frequency, phase discrimination or orientation discrimination thresholds). This is consistent with the neurophysiological findings that the receptive fields of visual cells at low-level of processing are radially elongated, starting with the retinal ganglion cells. Despite evidence that the human visual system is radially biased, it is not known whether this bias also influences the visual recognition of meaningful objects. To address this question, we used the case of face identification, which have been shown to rely primarily on horizontally oriented content (e.g., edges of eyes and eyebrows, base of nose, mouth). We reasoned that, as a result of the radial bias, humans should be better at recognizing their conspecifics' faces when perceived along the horizontal meridian, where the encoding of horizontal orientation is facilitated. In a psychophysical experiment, we trained two samples of participants to recognize upright and inverted faces appearing briefly on either the horizontal or vertical meridian. We measured the effect of face inversion, taken here as a marker of the high-level ‘specificity’ of face identity processing, across a range of visibility levels. We found that the face inversion effect was larger when faces were perceived on the horizontal compared to the vertical meridian. Our results support the hypothesis that the high-level mechanisms in the face processing system are more easily engaged when faces are perceived on the horizontal meridian, where horizontal cues in the face align with the radial bias. This result suggests that low level radial biases in peripheral vision can influence the recognition of complex objects.

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