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composite face effect; selective attention; holistic processing; divided attention


Theories of holistic face processing vary widely with respect to conceptualizations, paradigms, and stimuli. These divergences have left several theoretical questions unresolved. Namely, the role of attention in face perception is understudied. To rectify this gap in the literature, we combined the complete composite face task (allowing for predictions of multiple theoretical conceptualizations and connecting with a large body of research) with a secondary auditory discrimination task at encoding (to avoid a visual perceptual bottleneck). Participants studied upright, intact faces within a continuous recognition paradigm, which intermixes study and test trials at multiple retention intervals. Within subjects, participants studied faces under full or divided attention. Test faces varied with respect to alignment, congruence, and retention intervals. Overall, we observed the predicted beneficial outcomes of holistic processing (e.g., higher discriminability for Congruent, Aligned faces relative to Congruent, Misaligned faces) that persisted across retention intervals and attention. However, we did not observe the predicted detrimental outcomes of holistic processing (e.g., higher discriminability for Incongruent, Misaligned faces relative to Incongruent, Aligned faces). Because the continuous recognition paradigm exerts particularly strong demands on attention, we interpret these findings through the lens of resource dependency and domain specificity.


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Originally published as:

Erickson, W.B.; Weatherford, D.R. Measuring the Contributions of Perceptual and Attentional Processes in the Complete Composite Face Paradigm. Vision 2023, 7, 76. 10.3390/vision7040076

Copyright: © 2023 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (

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