Refinement of face representations by exposure reveals different time scales of biases in face processing

Tal Lulav-Bash, Galia Avidan, Bat Sheva Hadad

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Experience modulates face processing abilities so that face discrimination and recognition improve with development, especially for more frequently experienced faces (e.g., own-race faces). Although advanced models describe how experience generally modulates perception, the mechanism by which exposure refines internal perceptual representations of faces is unknown. To address this issue, we investigated the effect of short- and long-term experienced stimulus history on face processing. Participants performed same-different judgments in a serial discrimination task where two consecutive faces were drawn from a distribution of morphed faces. Use of stimulus statistics was measured by testing the gravitation of face representations towards the mean of a range of morphed faces around which they were sampled (regression-to-the-mean). The results demonstrated regression of face representations towards the experienced mean and the retention of stimulus statistics over days. In trials where regression facilitated discrimination, the bias diminished the otherwise disadvantage of other-race over own-races faces. The dynamics of the perceptual bias, probed by trial-by-trial performance, further indicated different timescales of the bias, depending on perceptual expertise: people with weak face-recognition skills showed the use of a stable reference, built on long-term statistics accumulated over many trials, along with an updating of this reference by recent trials. In contrast, the strong face recognizers showed a different pattern where sequential effects mostly contributed to discrimination, with relatively minimal reliance on the long-term average for other-race faces. The findings suggest a mechanism by which exposure refines face representations and reveal, for the first time in adults, associations between levels of specialization of perceptual representations and the extent to which these representations become narrowly tuned.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages13
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
StatePublished - Feb 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, The Psychonomic Society, Inc.


  • Bayesian perception
  • Contextual effects
  • Face processing
  • Perceptual biases
  • Regression to the mean

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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