chapter  7
56 Pages

Faces as Gestalt Stimuli: Process Characteristics

Whole, holistic, well-configured, Gestalt: Each of these adjectives can rather intuitively be applied to the face as a visual stimulus. But what do they mean? Although rich with history, they are somewhat bereft of precision, coming into modern usage from a scientific approach (Gestalt theory) that was based on “unquantified and ill-defined concepts of organization and form” (Uttal, 1988, p. 22). Although there have been careful attempts to move beyond this imprecision (e.g., Hochberg & McAlister, 1953; Kubovy & Pomerantz, 1981; Kubovy & Wagemans, 1995), there is still a sense that the use of these terms is, at best, undisciplined (see discussions in Kimchi, 1992; Massaro, 1998; Uttal, 1988). This is unfortunate for the study of facial cognition, as faces may be one of the most compelling examples of visual stimuli that might be described as being holistic, well-configured, or gestalt (e.g., Farah, Wilson, Drain, & Tanaka, 1998; Mermelstein, Banks, & Prinzmetl, 1979; Tanaka & Farah, 1993; Tanaka & Sengco, 1997).