The many faces of configural processing

Trends Cogn Sci. 2002 Jun 1;6(6):255-260. doi: 10.1016/s1364-6613(02)01903-4.


Adults' expertise in recognizing faces has been attributed to configural processing. We distinguish three types of configural processing: detecting the first-order relations that define faces (i.e. two eyes above a nose and mouth), holistic processing (glueing the features together into a gestalt), and processing second-order relations (i.e. the spacing among features). We provide evidence for their separability based on behavioral marker tasks, their sensitivity to experimental manipulations, and their patterns of development. We note that inversion affects each type of configural processing, not just sensitivity to second-order relations, and we review evidence on whether configural processing is unique to faces.