Privileged access to awareness for faces and objects of expertise

Timo Stein, Reshanne R Reeder, Marius V Peelen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (journal)peer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)
192 Downloads (Pure)


Access to visual awareness for human faces is strongly influenced by spatial orientation: Under continuous flash suppression (CFS), upright faces break into awareness more quickly than inverted faces. This effect of inversion for faces is larger than for a wide range of other animate and inanimate objects. Here we asked whether this apparently specific sensitivity to upright faces reflects face-specific detection mechanisms or whether it reflects perceptual expertise more generally. We tested car experts who varied in their degree of car and face expertise and measured the time upright and inverted faces, cars, and chairs needed to overcome CFS and break into awareness. Results showed that greater car expertise was correlated with larger car inversion effects under CFS. A similar relation between better discrimination performance and larger CFS inversion effects was found for faces. CFS inversion effects are thus modulated by perceptual expertise for both faces and cars. These results demonstrate that inversion effects in conscious access are not unique to faces but similarly exist for other objects of expertise. More generally, we interpret these findings as suggesting that access to awareness and exemplar-level discrimination rely on partially shared perceptual mechanisms. (PsycINFO Database Record

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)788-798
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
Issue number6
Early online date21 Dec 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2016


  • Adult
  • Awareness/physiology
  • Facial Recognition/physiology
  • Humans
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual/physiology
  • Face perception
  • Visual awareness
  • Interocular suppression
  • Continuous flash suppression
  • Perceptual expertise


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