Configural and holistic coding are hallmarks of face perception. Although recent studies have shown that own-race faces are coded more holistically than other-race faces, the evidence for better configural coding of own-race faces is equivocal. We directly measured configural and component coding of own- and other-race male faces in Caucasian and Chinese participants. We manipulated individual features (components) or their spatial relations (configurations) using a novel morphing method to vary difficulty parametrically and tested sensitivity to these changes in a sequential matching task. Both configural and component coding were better for upright own-race than for upright other-race faces. Inversion impaired detection of configural changes more than it did detection of component changes, but also impaired performance more for easier discriminations, independent of type of change. These results challenge explanations of face expertise that rely solely on configural and holistic processing, and also call into question the widespread interpretation of large inversion decrements as diagnostic of configural coding.
Rhodes, G., Hayward, W. G., & Winkler, C. (2006). Expert face coding: Configural and component coding of own-race and other-race faces. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 13(3), 499-505. https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03193876