How well do computer-generated faces tap face expertise?

Kate Crookes, Louise Ewing, Ju-dith Gildenhuys, Nadine Kloth, William G. Hayward, Matt Oxner, Stephen Pond, Gillian Rhodes

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The use of computer-generated (CG) stimuli in face processing research is proliferating due to the ease with which faces can be generated, standardised and manipulated. However there has been surprisingly little research into whether CG faces are processed in the same way as photographs of real faces. The present study assessed how well CG faces tap face identity expertise by investigating whether two indicators of face expertise are reduced for CG faces when compared to face photographs. These indicators were accuracy for identification of own-race faces and the other-race effect (ORE)–the well-established finding that own-race faces are recognised more accurately than other-race faces. In Experiment 1 Caucasian and Asian participants completed a recognition memory task for own- and other-race real and CG faces. Overall accuracy for own-race faces was dramatically reduced for CG compared to real faces and the ORE was significantly and substantially attenuated for CG faces. Experiment 2 investigated perceptual discrimination for own- and other-race real and CG faces with Caucasian and Asian participants. Here again, accuracy for own-race faces was significantly reduced for CG compared to real faces. However the ORE was not affected by format. Together these results signal that CG faces of the type tested here do not fully tap face expertise. Technological advancement may, in the future, produce CG faces that are equivalent to real photographs. Until then caution is advised when interpreting results obtained using CG faces.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0141353
JournalPLoS One
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 4 Nov 2015

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