In reading, the perceptual span is a well-established concept that refers to the amount of information that can be read in a single fixation. Surprisingly, despite extensive empirical interest in determining the perceptual strategies deployed to process faces and an ongoing debate regarding the factors or mechanism(s) underlying efficient face processing, the perceptual span for faces-the Facespan-remains undetermined. To address this issue, we applied the gaze-contingent Spotlight technique implemented in an old-new face recognition paradigm. This procedure allowed us to parametrically vary the amount of facial information available at a fixated location in order to determine the minimal aperture size at which face recognition performance plateaus. As expected, accuracy increased nonlinearly with spotlight size apertures. Analyses of Structural Similarity comparing the available information during spotlight and natural viewing conditions indicate that the Facespan-the minimum spatial extent of preserved facial information leading to comparable performance as in natural viewing-encompasses 7° of visual angle in our viewing conditions (size of the face stimulus: 15.6° viewing distance: 70 cm), which represents 45% of the face. The present findings provide a benchmark for future investigations that will address if and how the Facespan is modulated by factors such as cultural, developmental, idiosyncratic, or task-related differences.
Papinutto, M., Lao, J., Ramon, M., Caldara, R. & Miellet, S. (2017). The Facespan-the perceptual span for face recognition. Journal of Vision, 17 (5), 16-1-16-12.