Publication Details

Otsuka, Y., Hill, H. C. H., Kanazawa, S., Yamaguchi, M. K. & Spehar, B. (2012). Perception of mooney faces by young infants: the role of local feature visibility, contrast polarity and motion. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 111 (2), 164-179.


We examined the ability of young infants (3- and 4-month-olds) to detect faces in the two-tone images often referred to as Mooney faces. In Experiment 1, this performance was examined in conditions of high and low visibility of local features and with either the presence or absence of the outer head contour. We found that regardless of the presence of the outer head contour, infants preferred upright over inverted two-tone face images only when local features were highly visible (Experiment 1a). We showed that this upright preference disappeared when the contrast polarity of twotone images was reversed (Experiment 1b), reflecting operation of face-specific mechanisms. In Experiment 2, we investigated whether motion affects infants’ perception of faces in Mooney faces. We found that when the faces appeared to be rigidly moving, infants did show an upright preference in conditions of low visibility of local features (Experiment 2a). Again the preference disappeared when the contrast polarity of the image was reversed (Experiment 2b). Together, these results suggest that young infants have the ability to integrate fragmented image features to perceive faces from two-tone face images, especially if they are moving. This suggests that an interaction between motion and form rather than a purely motion-based process (e.g., structure from motion) facilitates infants’ perception of faces in ambiguous two-tone images.



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