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The nature of holistic processing in face and object recognition.

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Faces are thought to be processed in a more holistic or integrated manner than other objects. There has been debate over whether this is because faces are in some way special, or because of the extensive experience that we have telling apart individual faces. However, it is still somewhat unclear what is ...

Faces are thought to be processed in a more holistic or integrated manner than other objects. There has been debate over whether this is because faces are in some way special, or because of the extensive experience that we have telling apart individual faces. However, it is still somewhat unclear what is meant by holistic processing. In general, it is defined as something like integration across the area of the face, or processing of the relationships between features as well as, or instead of, the features themselves. However, researchers continue to debate what holistic processing is and is not; for example, whether information about spacing between features (e.g., distance between the eyes) is the same as holistic processing or different, and whether holistic processing includes explicit representation of features or not.
Our understanding of Holistic processing, is also influenced by the various ways it has has been measured. Behavioural, neuroimaging and computational techniques have all been used. Behavioural tasks include the composite task, in which it is harder to ignore an irrelevant face half when the two halves are aligned than misaligned, and the part-whole task in which face features are recognized better in the context of the whole face than alone. More indirectly holistic processing has been measure by comparing the size of inversion effects; turning faces upside-down has a much larger detrimental effect on recognition than turning other things upside-down. Neuroscience has debated whether holistic processing occurs in particular brain areas or in a more distributed fashion and the importance of specific ERP correlates such as the N170.
Despite these debates, holistic processing is now generally thought to mature fairly early and be affected by early visual deprivation. It is sometimes affected by face processing problems such as prosopagnosia or autism, but not always. Holistic processing has generally been applied to the problem of how we identify people (i.e., recognize someone that we know or have seen before), however a small amount of research has also investigated how holistic processing might apply to other aspects of face processing, such as emotional expression or attractiveness. This volume will bring together current ideas on holistic processing to try and understand the underlying nature of holistic processing, including whether there is one kind of holistic processing or many, and if there are many kinds, what determines when each kind is used.


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