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Changing camera-to-subject distance changes face matching performance

23.4092, Saturday, 16-May, 8:30 am - 12:30 pm, Pavilion
Session: Face Perception: Wholes, parts, and configuration

Eilidh Noyes1, Rob Jenkins1; 1Department of Psychology, University of York

Accurate face recognition is easy for viewers who are familiar with the faces concerned, but highly error prone for viewers who are unfamiliar with them (Bruce, 1986; Burton et al. 1999). An influential proposal is that people become good at recognizing a face by learning its configuration—specifically, distances between facial features. Here we test this proposal experimentally using a natural manipulation of these distances. Harper & Latto (2001) showed that changing camera-to-subject distance also changes distances between features. However, their pioneering study did not test implications of these image changes for identification performance. Following Harper & Latto (2001), we photographed volunteer models at both Near (32 cm) and Far (270 cm) viewing distances, resulting in changes to inter-feature distances in the image, confirmed by anthropometry (Kleinberg et al. 2007). Experimental participants who were either Familiar (N = 22) or Unfamiliar (N = 23) with these faces viewed pairs of images in a matching task that required Same Identity or Different Identity judgments. Images were paired to create Same Distance (i.e. Near+Near or Far+Far) and Different Distance (Near+Far or Far+Near) conditions. Familiar viewers performed accurately in both the Same Distance condition (M = 99%, SE = .29) and the Different Distance condition (M = 97%, SE = .89). In contrast, Unfamiliar viewers performed much more poorly in the Different Distance condition (M = 81%, SE = 1.42) than in the Same Distance condition (M = 91%, SE = 1.04). The finding that Familiar viewers were impervious to these non-linear changes in facial configuration suggests that familiar face recognition is not strongly dependent on distances between features in the face image.

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