Taubert, J., Alais D., Burr, D. (2016).
Different coding strategies for the perception of stable and changeable facial attributes, Sci. Rep., 6.
Perceptual systems face competing requirements: improving signal-to-noise ratios of noisy images, by integration; and maximising sensitivity to change, by differentiation. Both processes occur in human vision, under different circumstances: they have been termed priming, or serial dependencies, leading to positive sequential effects; and adaptation or habituation, which leads to negative sequential effects. We reasoned that for stable attributes, such as the identity and gender of faces, the system should integrate: while for changeable attributes like facial expression, it should also engage contrast mechanisms to maximise sensitivity to change. Subjects viewed a sequence of images varying simultaneously in gender and expression, and scored each as male or female, and happy or sad. We found strong and consistent positive serial dependencies for gender, and negative dependency for expression, showing that both processes can operate at the same time, on the same stimuli, depending on the attribute being judged. The results point to highly sophisticated mechanisms for optimizing use of past information, either by integration or differentiation, depending on the permanence of that attribute.