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Is the Flashed Face Distortion Effect expertise-based? - a systematic experimental investigation

23.4076, Saturday, 16-May, 8:30 am - 12:30 pm, Pavilion
Session: Face Perception: Wholes, parts, and configuration

Sandra Utz1, Claus-Christian Carbon1,2; 1Department of General Psychology & Methodology, School of Psychology, University of Bamberg, Bamberg, Germany, 2Bamberg Graduate School of Affective & Cognitive Sciences (BaGrACS), Bamberg, Germany

The Flashed Face Distortion Effect (Tangen, Murphy & Thompson, 2011) describes an illusion that emerges when participants fixate on a central fixation cross while faces are presented quickly and simultaneously to the left and right of the center field. After a short period of time participants report to peripherally perceive the faces as grotesque and distorted. Despite broad coverage of the phenomenon via several media, it is not really clear how the perceived effect arises. Aim of the present study was to further investigate the necessary conditions and causes in a systematic way: as flankers we varied the stimuli by using Caucasian, black, inverted, negative, and monkey faces at different presentation rates (1, 4 or 10 Hz). Additionally, we tested the effectiveness of the phenomenon when only unilateral flankers were used. When participants had to evaluate the level of grotesqueness of the faces peripherally observed, they showed significant decreases of grotesqueness when faces were inverted or negativated, and also when they stemmed from other ethnic groups or species. Such a decrease of grotesqueness was also revealed when the presentation rate was at 10 Hz compared with the base rate of 4 Hz—meanwhile the slowest change of flankers, realized by the 1 Hz condition, showed the highest grotesqueness ratings. Contrary to the original authors’ notion, unilateral flankers did not reduce the effect. Our results provide evidence that the Flashed Face Distortion Effect is based on configural processing which is typical for face expertise processes.

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