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Vortrag Stefan R. Schweinberger: The configural processing hypothesis revisited: Exploring the role of shape and reflectance in face recognition

17.01.2014 | 14:00

Face recognition is often believed to be based on some sort of ‘‘configural’’ or ‘‘holistic’’ processing. Although these terms are not always defined clearly in the literature, an influential hypothesis is that the recognition of individual faces depends, to a considerable extent, on shape in terms of metric distances between features (so-called second-order configural information). Here I will argue that this idea is not easily reconciled with a number of empirical findings. First, I will show evidence that familiar faces are well recognized even when idiosyncratic shape has been eliminated by shape normalization – suggesting a strong role of texture/surface reflectance for recognition. I will then present several face learning experiments that examined the impact of selective photorealistic caricaturing of either shape or texture information on face recognition and its neuronal correlates in event-related brain potentials. These experiments also confirm that shape is of little importance for the recognition of familiar faces, whereas shape enhancement was shown to facilitate the encoding of new faces. Moreover, distinctive texture/reflectance information was found to be particularly important for the recognition of learned faces. Overall, the present experiments underline the importance of face familiarity for mental representations of faces. Crucially, the configural processing hypothesis in its traditional form does not well account for the findings reported, and thus should be reconsidered.

Prof. Dr. Stefan R. Schweinberger


  • Editor-in-chief, British Journal of Psychology (2013-present)
  • Associate Editor, The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology (2005-2012)
  • Associate Editor, Cortex (2006-present)
  • Head, DFG Research Unit Person Perception, Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena, 2009-present
  • Regular reviewer for > 50 international scientific journals
  • Full Professor and Chair for General Psychology, Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena, 2005-present
  • Full Professor and Chair for Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience, University of Glasgow, 2000-2005

Research Interest

The research interests of Stefan R. Schweinberger are in the field of cognition and cognitive neuroscience. Areas of his research include emotion, memory, language, attention, perception of faces and other social stimuli, cognition subsequent to brain injury, and cognitive aging. A focus of his research is the cognitive neuroscience of person perception by faces, names and voices. In the past 20 years, he and his group were involved in a number of research programs that have been funded by the DFG, the BBSRC, and the Wellcome Trust. Stefan Schweinberger is using research methods that tap into the area between brain and cognition, such as event-related brain potentials (ERP) and haemodynamic neuroimaging (fMRI), as well as psychological investigations of patients with focal brain lesions. A particular objective in this research is the integration of cognitive models with neurophysiological recordings. The combination of various research methods in this ongoing cross-disciplinary program has already provided us with important information about the dynamics governing the cognitive and brain systems that mediate the recognition of complex social stimuli. Ultimately, the research in the group and in an associated DFG Research Unit Person Perception will lead to a fuller understanding of the cognitive, affective, and neuronal systems that determine successful human social perception and interaction, which arguably have a direct impact on social and economic behaviour, and which thus form the basis for psychological well-being.

Zeit & Ort

17.01.2014 | 14:00

Seminarraum KL 32/202, Habelschwerdter Alle 45