Relative Contributions of Internal and External Features to Face Recognition

Unknown author (2003-03-01)

The central challenge in face recognition lies in understanding the role different facial features play in our judgments of identity. Notable in this regard are the relative contributions of the internal (eyes, nose and mouth) and external (hair and jaw-line) features. Past studies that have investigated this issue have typically used high-resolution images or good-quality line drawings as facial stimuli. The results obtained are therefore most relevant for understanding the identification of faces at close range. However, given that real-world viewing conditions are rarely optimal, it is also important to know how image degradations, such as loss of resolution caused by large viewing distances, influence our ability to use internal and external features. Here, we report experiments designed to address this issue. Our data characterize how the relative contributions of internal and external features change as a function of image resolution. While we replicated results of previous studies that have shown internal features of familiar faces to be more useful for recognition than external features at high resolution, we found that the two feature sets reverse in importance as resolution decreases. These results suggest that the visual system uses a highly non-linear cue-fusion strategy in combining internal and external features along the dimension of image resolution and that the configural cues that relate the two feature sets play an important role in judgments of facial identity.