What determines whether faces are special?

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"Is face perception special?" has become one of the most frequently asked questions among cognitive scientists. This issue has generated considerable debate and produced diversified rather than unified answers around the polarized "yes-no" positions. The ongoing confusion in this field now calls for a theoretical synthesis. The goal of this paper is to review and examine the conceptual basis of the contradictory claims and to offer a unified scheme for experimental inquiry. We argue that most differences in the stated claims can be traced to conceptual rather than empirical determinants. Assessment discrepancies arise prior to empirical investigations because of the use of unfounded assumptions. The key to resolving the current controversy will largely depend upon settling some conceptual issues. We propose to replace the commonly adopted approach of assessing a single criterion with one where the question is addressed along multiple dimensions that include comparison of face and object perception in terms of their innate specification, localization, and domain specificity using developmental, neuropsychological, and neurophysiological measures.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13506280244000050

Affiliations: Department of Psychology, McGill University, Quebec, Canada

Publication date: May 1, 2003

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