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The research catalogue is an archive of ESRC-funded grants and outputs. Links, files and other content will no longer be maintained or updated after April 2014.

Familiar face aftereffects

Face recognition research seeks a plausible theory of our ability to distinguish between thousands of similar faces. A new technique has recently become available that has the potential to uncover the fundamental way this is achieved. The technique is based on the notion of ‘adaptation’, the well-known finding that neurons become fatigued after prolonged exposure to an unchanging stimulus. The extent of adaptation can be measured by testing what viewers see when the stimulus is removed. To take an example from colour perception, staring at a green dot will cause a white dot to appear red - an after-effect of the original green. This technique has proved extremely successful in uncovering the coding of low-level visual patterns (eg colour), but it has recently emerged that the same technique can be applied to face perception.

This project examines after-effects in facial identity. If one looks at Tony Blair for a long period, does one then see the opposite of Tony Blair? If this occurs, and if one can accurately measure what “the opposite of Tony Blair” means, then the technique can reveal the fundamental dimensions along which faces are organised.