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Attention and face processing

Jenkins, Robert; (2001) Attention and face processing. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

This dissertation seeks to unite two major streams of cognitive research that have traditionally proceeded independently (i.e. selective attention, and face processing). It was already well-established that faces convey a great deal of biologically significant information that has direct implications for everyday social behaviour. Moreover, there is substantial evidence that face processing may be qualitatively different from other forms of visual processing, and may even be subserved by face-specific neural systems. If faces are indeed 'special' in these respects, it is possible that their relation to selective attention may also differ from that of other stimulus classes, for which several attentional principles are relatively well understood. To date, however, this possibility has been largely overlooked. The experiments in this thesis addressed the interaction between selective attention and face processing directly, by examining whether faces are particularly difficult stimuli to ignore, and by assessing the consequences of various attentional manipulations for both on-line processing of task-irrelevant faces, and for subsequent incidental memory of these faces. The main findings indicate that faces may be particularly strong competitors for attention, such that they typically capture more attention than competing nonface objects when spatial competition for attention arises. Moreover, they seem to draw on a highly face-specific capacity with its own (face-specific) capacity limits. Despite being special in these two senses, however, face processing may be subject to more general attentional constraints at some stage, since task-irrelevant faces are later recognised less well if attentional capacity was exhausted by a nonface task at exposure. These findings are discussed in relation to the ongoing debate over 'modularity' for face processing. The results may also have practical implications, for example in assessing the reliability of eyewitness testimony.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Attention and face processing
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Thesis digitised by ProQuest.
Keywords: Psychology; Face processing; Selective attention
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10099563
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