Lab Report: Are We Better At Perceiving Upright Faces Than Inverted Faces Compared To Upright/Inverted Images?

Lab Report: Are We Better At Perceiving Upright Faces Than Inverted Faces Compared To Upright/Inverted Images?

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I on, 1969,

iraal ol Experimental Psychology i9, Vol. 81, No. 1, 141-145



Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Memory for faces was compared with memory for other classes of familiar and complex objects which, like faces, are also customarily seen only in one orientation (mono-oriented). Performance was tested when the inspection and test series were presented in the same orientation, either both upright or both inverted, or when the two series were presented in opposite orientations. The results show that while all mono-oriented objects tend to be more diffi- cult to remember when upside-down, faces are disproportionately affected. These findings suggest that the difficulty in looking at upside-down faces involves two factors: (a) a general factor of familiarity with mono-oriented objects; and (6) a special factor related only to faces.

It is a well-known fact that pictures of hu- man faces, when viewed upside-down, are extremely difficult to recognize (Arnheim, 1954, p. 86; Attneave, 1967, p. 26; Kohler, 1940, p. 60). Kohler not only noted this, but also speculated that the difficulty was attributable to the loss of “facial expression” in the inverted picture. More recently, in- vestigators have examined this phenomenon in several ways. Brooks and Goldstein (1963) showed that recognition of inverted faces is worse than that of upright faces when children are asked to identify snapshots of their classmates. That memory for in- verted faces is poorer than memory for up- right faces among adults has been shown in a paired-associate task (Goldstein, 1965) and a recognition task (Hochberg & Galper, 1967).

These studies have not indicated the ex- tent to which the difficulty in viewing an up- side-down face is related specifically to the face. An alternative hypothesis would be that any set of objects customarily seen in one orientation, i.e., mono-oriented, might be more difficult to recognize when inverted. Some evidence for this hypothesis was re-

1 This study was supported by a grant from the John A. Hartford Foundation, Inc. (New York, N. Y.) to H.-L. Teuber and a predoctoral award to the author from the National Science Foundation. The author gratefully acknowledges the advice and encouragement of H.-L. Teuber throughout all phases of this work.

2 Requests for reprints should be sent to Robert K. Yin, Department of Psychology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139.

ported by Henle (1942), who showed that alphabetic letters were correctly perceived more frequently than their mirror reversals by 5″s familiar with the letters, and by Ghent (1960), who found that young children are markedly dependent on familiar orientation for recognizing realistic figures. In addition, Dallett, Wilcox, and D’Andrea (1968) re- ported that memory for upright magazine pictures was better than that for the same pictures when presented upside-down. The investigators did not indicate, however, the extent of homogeneity among the pictures or the degree to which the pictures were of ob- jects that are customarily mono-oriented.

The present experiments were designed to test whether a general impairment on mono- oriented objects when inverted could account for the difficulty with viewing upside-down faces. More specifically, performance on up- right and inverted tasks for faces was com- pared with that for other classes of every- day objects having a priori properties similar to faces in being mono-oriented, familiar, complex, and not easily verbalized, i.e., ob- jects that are not distinguished from each other by the use of simple labels.

To test performance, a forced-choice recog- nition memory task was used. In this task, 5s were shown individual pictures (an in- spection series) and then presented with pairs of pictures (a test series). In the test series they indicated the one of the pair they thought they had seen in the in- spection series. Three experiments were conducted. In the first and third, the



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