Probing the visual representation of faces with adaptation: A view from the other side of the mean

Psychol Sci. 2006 Jun;17(6):493-500. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2006.01734.x.


Sensory adaptation and visual aftereffects have long given insight into the neural codes underlying basic dimensions of visual perception. Recently discovered perceptual adaptation effects for complex shapes like faces can offer similar insight into high-level visual representations. In the experiments reported here, we demonstrated first that face adaptation transfers across a substantial change in viewpoint and that this transfer occurs via processes unlikely to be specific to faces. Next, we probed the visual codes underlying face recognition using face morphs that varied selectively in reflectance or shape. Adaptation to these morphs affected the perception of "opposite" faces both from the same viewpoint and from a different viewpoint. These results are consistent with high-level face representations that pool local shape and reflectance patterns into configurations that specify facial appearance over a range of three-dimensional viewpoints. These findings have implications for computational models of face recognition and for competing neural theories of face and object recognition.

MeSH terms

  • Discrimination, Psychological
  • Face*
  • Facial Expression
  • Form Perception*
  • Humans
  • Judgment
  • Recognition, Psychology
  • Visual Perception*