Contributions of individual face features to face discrimination

Andrew J. Logan, Gael E. Gordon*, Gunter Loffler

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)
108 Downloads (Pure)


Faces are highly complex stimuli that contain a host of information. Such complexity poses the following questions: (a) do observers exhibit preferences for specific information? (b) how does sensitivity to individual face parts compare? These questions were addressed by quantifying sensitivity to different face features.
Discrimination thresholds were determined for synthetic faces under the following conditions: (i) ‘full face’: all face features visible; (ii) ‘isolated feature’: single feature presented in isolation; (iii) ‘embedded feature’: all features visible, but only one feature modified.
Mean threshold elevations for isolated features, relative to full-faces, were 0.84x, 1.08, 2.12, 3.34, 4.07 and 4.47 for head-shape, hairline, nose, mouth, eyes and eyebrows respectively. Hence, when two full faces can be discriminated at threshold, the difference between the eyes is about four times less than what is required when discriminating between isolated eyes. In all cases, sensitivity was higher when features were presented in isolation than when they were embedded within a face context (threshold elevations of 0.94x, 1.74, 2.67, 2.90, 5.94 and 9.94).
This reveals a specific pattern of sensitivity to face information. Observers are between two and four times more sensitive to external than internal features. The pattern for internal features (higher sensitivity for the nose, compared to mouth, eyes and eyebrows) is consistent with lower sensitivity for those parts affected by facial dynamics (e.g. facial expressions). That isolated features are easier to discriminate than embedded features supports a holistic face processing mechanism which impedes extraction of information about individual features from full faces.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29–39
Number of pages11
JournalVision Research
Early online date12 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2017


  • face features
  • face discrimination
  • psychophysics
  • face perception


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