Faces Are “Spatial”—Holistic Face Perception Is Supported by Low Spatial Frequencies

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Faces are perceived holistically, a phenomenon best illustrated when the processing of a face feature is affected by the other features. Here, the authors tested the hypothesis that the holistic perception of a face mainly relies on its low spatial frequencies. Holistic face perception was tested in two classical paradigms: the whole-part advantage (Experiment 1) and the composite face effect (Experiments 2–4). Holistic effects were equally large or larger for low-pass filtered faces as compared to full-spectrum faces and significantly larger than for high-pass filtered faces. The disproportionate composite effect found for low-pass filtered faces was not observed when holistic perception was disrupted by inversion (Experiment 3). Experiment 4 showed that the composite face effect was enhanced only for low spatial frequencies, but not for intermediate spatial frequencies known be critical for face recognition. These findings indicate that holistic face perception is largely supported by low spatial frequencies. They also suggest that holistic processing precedes the analysis of local features during face perception.

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