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The time course of processing external and internal features of unfamiliar faces

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The time course of processing internal and external facial features was studied in a sequential face matching task, where first a target face was presented, followed by a test face. The exposure duration of the test face was varied systematically (90, 120, 150 ms, and self-paced). In three tasks, participants were instructed to match either the whole face, only external features, or only internal features of the target and test face. Taken together, the results in all the three tasks provide evidence for very fast matching processes. For upright faces, maximal performance was achieved at 90 ms exposure duration and longer exposure durations (120, 150 ms, self-paced) did not improve accuracy. For inverted whole faces, reduced exposure duration resulted in an increase of matching errors, suggesting that below 150 ms of exposure duration, inverted faces cannot be matched reliably. When matching selected facial features only, no such inversion effect was found. Our data challenges previous claims that external features are matched faster than internal: no difference of time course was found between external and internal features. However, external features were matched more accurately.

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This study was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation grant no. PMCD1—114398/1 given to Bozana Veres-Injac.

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Correspondence to Bozana Veres-Injac.

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Veres-Injac, B., Schwaninger, A. The time course of processing external and internal features of unfamiliar faces. Psychological Research 73, 43–53 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-008-0147-5

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  • Exposure Duration
  • Internal Feature
  • External Feature
  • Inversion Effect
  • Target Face