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Stimulus-Specific Individual Differences in Holistic Perception of Mooney Faces


Humans perceive faces holistically rather than as a set of separate features. Previous work demonstrates that some individuals are better at this holistic type of processing than others. Here, we show that there are unique individual differences in holistic processing of specific Mooney faces. We operationalized the increased difficulty of recognizing a face when inverted compared to upright as a measure of the degree to which individual Mooney faces were processed holistically by individual observers. Our results show that Mooney faces vary considerably in the extent to which they tap into holistic processing; some Mooney faces require holistic processing more than others. Importantly, there is little between-subject agreement about which faces are processed holistically; specific faces that are processed holistically by one observer are not by other observers. Essentially, what counts as holistic for one person is unique to that particular observer. Interestingly, we found that the per-face, per-observer differences in face discrimination only occurred for harder Mooney faces that required relatively more holistic processing. These findings suggest that holistic processing of hard Mooney faces depends on a particular observer's experience whereas processing of easier, cartoon-like Mooney faces can proceed universally for everyone. Future work using Mooney faces in perception research should take these stimulus-specific individual differences into account to best isolate holistic processing.

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