With a careful look: still no low-level confound to face pop-out

Vision Res. 2006 Sep;46(18):3028-35. doi: 10.1016/j.visres.2006.03.023. Epub 2006 May 15.


In this issue of Vision Research, VanRullen, R. (2006). On second glance: Still no high-level pop-out effect for faces. Vision Research, in press. challenges our earlier Vision Research paper, "At first sight: A high-level pop-out effect for faces" (Hershler, O., & Hochstein, S. (2005). At first sight: A high-level pop-out effect for faces. Vision Research, 45, 1707-1724). In that paper, we showed that faces pop-out from a great variety of heterogeneous distractors. This search must have been based on a holistic combination of facial features, since it could not have relied on any single low-level distinguishing feature-each of which was present in at least some of the distractors. VanRullen implies that the pop-out effect is not limited to faces, is not holistic, and is due to a low-level confound, namely that the "low-level" Fourier amplitude spectrum may differentiate between faces and other categories. We now show that he fails to substantiate all three claims. His first experiment replicates our own and shows once again that faces do indeed pop-out, while other objects, such as cars, do not. The claim regarding the non-holistic nature of face search is based on a failure to differentiate between holistic processing for face detection and for individual face identification. His central claim is that the Fourier amplitude spectrum is processed low-level and could be used for face pop-out. However, changing the amplitude spectrum may well affect high-level representations as well. For example, his demonstration uses hybrid images which are extremely fuzzy, rendering them difficult to identify. More importantly, this claim would lead to the conclusion that targets with a non-face phase spectrum and only a face amplitude spectrum would pop-out among distractors with different amplitude spectra. We demonstrate that this is, of course, not the case and that the Fourier amplitude is not the hoped for "low-level confound". Until another such "hidden" low level feature is found, we must accept that face pop out depends on a high level mechanism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Comment

MeSH terms

  • Discrimination, Psychological
  • Face*
  • Fourier Analysis*
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Perceptual Masking / physiology
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Research Design