Although faces can be recognized from different viewpoints, variations in viewpoint impair face identification ability. The present study quantified the effect of changes in viewpoint on sensitivity to face identity. We measured discrimination thresholds for synthetic faces presented from several viewpoints (same viewpoint condition) and the same faces shown with a change in viewpoint (5°, 10° or 20°) between viewing and test. We investigated three types of viewpoint change: (i) front-to-side (front-view matched to 20°° side-view), (ii) side-to-front (20° side-view matched to front) and (iii) symmetrical (10° left to 10° right). In the same viewpoint condition, discrimination thresholds were lowest for faces presented from 0° and increased linearly as the viewing angle was increased (threshold elevations: 0° = 1.00×, 5° = 1.11×, 10° = 1.22×, 20° = 1.69×). Changes in viewpoint between viewing and test led to further reductions in discrimination sensitivity, which depended upon the magnitude of viewpoint change (5° = 1.38×, 10° = 1.75×, 20° = 2.07×). Sensitivity also depended upon the type of viewpoint change: while a 20° front-to-side viewpoint change increased discrimination thresholds by a factor of 2.09×, a symmetrical change in viewpoint, of the same magnitude, did not significantly reduce sensitivity (1.26×). Sensitivity to face identity is significantly reduced by changes in viewpoint. Factors which determine the extent of this reduction include the magnitude of viewpoint change and symmetry. Our results support the premise of viewpoint-dependent encoding of unfamiliar face identities, and suggest that symmetry may be used to recognize identities across different viewpoints.
- face perception
- unfamiliar faces