Specialised higher-level mechanisms for facial-symmetry perception: Evidence from orientation-tuning functions

Gillian Rhodes, Marianne Peters, Louise A Ewing

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Bilateral symmetry is important in many perceptual analyses from low-level figure-ground segmentation to higher-level face and object perception. Despite the success of low-level, image-based symmetry-detection models, these may not provide a complete account of symmetry perception. Better symmetry detection and stronger preferences for symmetry in upright faces than comparable patterns (e.g. inverted faces) that do not engage specialised face-coding mechanisms suggest a contribution of higher-level mechanisms to symmetry perception. We replicated better symmetry detection and stronger symmetry preferences for upright than inverted faces in experiment 1, and examined their orientation tuning in more detail in experiment 2. Decreasing performance as faces are mis-oriented away from the canonical upright orientation is the signature of specialised face-processing mechanisms, which are engaged less effectively as faces are mis-oriented. Lower-level symmetry-detection mechanisms, which operate better with vertical than horizontal, and horizontal than oblique, axes of symmetry would produce a W-shaped orientation-tuning function. Identical orientation-tuning functions were obtained for symmetry detection and preferences. Both declined with increasing mis-orientation over the 0 degrees-135 degrees range, consistent with a contribution from specialised face-coding mechanisms. Both increased from 135 degrees to 180 degrees, consistent with reliance on lower-level image-based mechanisms for severely misoriented faces. Taken together, the results implicate specialised, higher-level mechanisms in the detection of, and preference for, facial symmetry.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1804-1812
Number of pages9
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2007


  • Analysis of Variance
  • Esthetics
  • Face
  • Female
  • Form Perception
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Visual Pattern Recognition

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