Department of Psychology
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Welcome to the Face Perception Lab

PEOPLE IN THE LAB

 

Cathy Mondloch
Lab Director
email: cmondloch@brocku.ca

Faces convey a wealth of information in our daily social interactions - information about the identity of individuals, their emotions, their gender and race, and their direction of gaze. Sensitivity to each of these cues is important for successful social interactions. My research interests centre on the development of various aspects of face processing and the role of early experience in mediating that development. My research program involves developing tasks that tap various components of face processing in adults and then adapting those tasks in order to test children of various ages.

Currently we are investigating the development of norm-based coding, the development of sensitivity to emotional expressions, and the influence of context (e.g., background scenes, body posture, face race) on adults' and children's perception of facial displays of emotion. In addition, we are studying the influence of group membership (in-group versus out-group) on face perception and the extent to which children and adults can predict propensity towards aggression based on facial structure.

LAB CO-ORDINATOR

Breanna Elliotson

Breanna keeps the lab running smoothly. She contacts schools and daycares to arrange testing, she creates stimuli and helps to run most studies, and she has expertise in our technology. Breanna completed her Honours Degree at Brock and will begin a Masters of Social Work program at Windsor University in September.

 

 

POSTDOCTORAL FELLOW

Sarah Laurence
Email: slaurence@brocku.ca

I completed my PhD at the University of Sussex under the mentorship of Graham Hole. The ability to recognize faces is an important social skill. I am interested in a) the processes underlying face recognition and b) how experience with faces affects our ability to recognize them. I am especially interested in the processes underlying recognition of people who are very familiar (e.g., celebrities) and am currently investigating how familiar face recognition develops throughout childhood (by investigating children’s recognition of their teachers). I am also exploring the ability to recognize faces from categories with which we have limited experience (e.g., other-race/other-age faces) and how dog ownership influences our representation of dog faces.

Nicole Nelson
Email: nnelson@brocku.ca

I am interested in determining how children come to make sense of the variety of emotional expressions they see in their daily lives. In my graduate work, I found that children as young as preschool-aged were able to use the facial, postural and vocal expressions they encounter to attribute emotions to others. Currently, I am using eye tracking data to determine which visual cues (e.g. facial expressions, posture) children and adults attend to when trying to decide how another person is feeling. I am also examining the process by which children learn about expressions they are unfamiliar with and whether children's tendency to mimic others' emotional expressions benefits their later recognition of those expressions.

I will begin a new position as Assistant Professor at the University of Queensland (Brisbane, Australia) in July 2014.

GRADUATE STUDENTS

Lindsey Short, PhD student
Email: ls08ts@brocku.ca

MA, Brock University
Undergraduate BA in psychology, Wittenberg University

Broadly, I am interested in the development of the face prototype(s) and the way in which social categorical distinctions in the absence of salient physical differences may potentially influence our perception of faces. Past research has demonstrated that adults code faces in reference to distinct face prototypes (averages), which represent the different face categories (e.g., race, sex) encountered in the environment. However, little is known about the way in which young children process and categorize faces. Using a child-friendly adaptation method, I am currently examining simple and opposing attractiveness aftereffects in 5-year-old children. That is, by repeatedly exposing 5-year-olds to distorted faces, can we systematically shift their perceptions of attractiveness? Additionally, I am interested in the role of social psychological factors in the elicitation of category-contingent opposing face aftereffects. Social context and factors such as in-group biases are often overlooked in what are primarily considered perceptual phenomena and may significantly influence both the strength and emergence of opposing face aftereffects.

Xiaomei Zhou, PhD student
Email: vz12ep@brocku.ca

Adults are experts at recognizing faces, but they recognize faces from some categories better than others. For example, people own-race faces and own-age faces more accurately than other-race and other-age faces. I am especially interested in why this happens and how experience shape our perceptual representation of own- versus other-race faces. I am currently conducting three studies designed to compare perceptions of attractiveness, normality, and identity in own- versus other-race faces. In each study, I am testing two groups of participants: Caucasian participants at Brock University and Chinese students at Zhejiang Normal University (Jinhua, China). Collectively, these studies will provide new insights about the role of experience in face perception. My long-term goal is to investigate how people build representations of new faces and whether that process differs for own- versus other-race faces.

HONOURS THESIS STUDENTS
  Rebecca Judges
INDEPENDENT STUDY STUDENT
   
RESEARCH ASSISTANTS
Kristen Baker
Gabby Salgado
 

Allison Mondloch

 

RECENT ALUMNI

Valentina Proietti
Email: vproietti@brocku.ca

I am a PhD student from Milano, Italy and spent a year abroad (2012) in the Face Perception Lab at Brock University. I am interested in how people process faces from different age categories: infant, child, young adult, and older adult. In one study, young and older adults were shown a face (This is Betty) and asked to memorize it. They were then shown a large set of faces one at a time and asked to press a button each time they saw Betty or someone who looked like her. Each identity was morphed with an average face of the same age in order to manipulate identity strength. So, for example, participants saw faces with weak (e.g., 30% Betty/70% average) or strong (e.g., 80% Betty/20% average) identity strength. I found that when searching for one particular person, both young and older adults were just as accurate when tested with older faces as when tested with young faces. So, although it is hard to remember a lot of older adult faces at the same time, when looking for a neighbor in a crowd, facial age may not matter. I am now back in Milano completing my PhD, but hope to return very soon!

 

Thalia Semplonius
Email: ts11jy@brocku.ca

For my MA thesis, I studied a phenomenon known as the "other-race effect". This simply means that when recognizing faces, we tend to be more accurate for own-race faces than other-race faces. In most studies of face recognition, faces are presented sequentially and in the absence of any other cues. In the real world, we often encounter many people at the same time and they compete with each other and with other stimuli in the environment (e.g., bodies, buildings, signs) for attention. The goal of my MA thesis was to examine how adults allocate attention when viewing multiple people in the context of a naturalistic scene. Each scene included both own- and other-race individuals and participants were told to either remember the people or form impressions of people in each scene. Regardless of task instructions, people looked longer at own-race faces and remembered them better. I am now conducting my PhD research in the Adolescent Development Lab where I am pursuing my interests in how spirituality influences development.

 

Matt Horner

Matt Horner investigated the influence of body postures on adults' and children's perception of facial displays of emotion. When judging sad vs fearful facial expressions, adults make more errors when faces are on incongruent bodies (e.g., a sad face on a body posing fear) than when faces are on congruent bodies (e.g., a fearful face on a body posing fear). Matt showed that this congruency effect emerges just as soon as children can accurately recognize emotions in isolated faces and bodies. Like adults, these young children do not show congruency effects when judging sad vs happy expressions, suggesting that happy facial expressions have special status. This work was published in JECP. Matt has another paper under review in which he investigated variation in the size of congruency effects.

Current Position: Research Assistant (McMaster University) & freelance writer

Anne Hackland

Anne completed her Honours Thesis in our lab. She investigated young children's sensitivity to distortions in young versus older adult faces, work that was presented at the Society for Research in Child Development in April. Anne also served as our Lab Co-ordinator for 2012-13. Anne will start her MA in Occupational Therapy in September. Good luck, Anne!

Amanda George

Amanda developed expertise in operating our 3D and 4D camera systems; she also completed an Honours Thesis investigating whether the own-race recognition advantage increases when recognition becomes more difficult because faces are presented from multiple points of view. Amanda will be starting her MA at Memorial University in September. Best of luck Amanda!

Alex Hatry

Alex Hatry, M.A.
Current Position: After graduation, Alex is embarking on a journey to New Zealand!

My Masters Thesis research investigated norm-based coding in children and in adults. Using a novel, child-friendly method I discovered that 8-year-old children, like adults, have dissociable prototypes for Caucasian and Chinese faces. After reading a storybook in which Chinese and Caucasian faces were distorted in opposite directions (compressed versus expanded features) participants’ attractiveness ratings for the two races shifted in opposite directions. I also discovered that the extent to which participants use distinct versus a single prototype depends on the social context in which faces are presented.

My research was published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.

Danielle Longfield, M.A.
Current Position: Student in the Midwifery Program, McMaster University

My Master's Thesis research investigated the influence of body posture on children's perception of emotional perception. I asked adults and 8- year-old children to judge facial expressions (e.g., sad versus fear) that were presented on either congruent (e.g., sad face on a body posing sadness) or incongruent (e.g., sad face on a body posing fear) body. I discovered that children, like adults, make more errors when the body posture is incongruent with the facial expression.

 

Jasmine Mian, B.A.
In September I will be working on my MA at the University of Calgary.

As adults, we are very good at recognizing identity across changes in facial expression. We are able to recognize the faces of those around us despite changes in expression. For my honours thesis, I examined the development of this ability throughout childhood. I specifically investigated how 8-year-old children represent identity and how this representation is influenced by variations in facial expression. I am also interested in how children perceive facial expressions within conflicting contexts. My Honours Thesis is now published in the Journal of Vision and my work on facial expressions is published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. I am now pursuing my wrestling and research careers at the University of Calgary and am funded by SSHRC.

Kendra Thomson, M.A.
Current Position: PhD Candidate, Applied Behavior Analysis, Psychology, University of Manitoba

My Masters Thesis research investigated children’s sensitivity to the authenticity of facial expressions. I discovered that 7-year-old children are as sensitive as adults to the difference between posed versus genuine  expressions, both when explicitly asked whether models are ‘really feeling happy’ and when rating objects held by models displaying a neutral expression, a fake smile, or a genuine smile. However, in this marketing context, children only show their sensitivity when their attention is drawn towards the face prior to their seeing the object.

ASSOCIATED GRADUATE STUDENT
Justin Carre, PHD
Current Position: Assistant Professor at Wayne State University

We have previously reported that the facial width-to-height ratio, a sexually dimorphic structure of the face is positively correlated with aggressive behaviour in men tested in the laboratory and among varsity and professional ice hockey players (the number of penalty minutes per game among varsity and professional hockey players (Carré & McCormick, 2008). In Dr. Mondloch's laboratory, we have examined the extent to which perceivers are accurate in judging another's propensity for aggression from emotionally neutral faces, and whether these judgements are based on the facial width-to-heigh ratio. We have found that perceivers are indeed accurate in estimating aggression from emotionally neutral faces, and that accuracy can be achieved with as little as 39 millisecond exposure to faces (Carré, McCormick,& Mondloch, 2009). We are currently examining whether these findings hold cross-culturally, which would provide additional support for the idea that the facial width-to-height ratio is an 'honest signal' of propensity for aggression and that our perceptual systems may have evolved to be especially sensitive to individual differences in this facial metric.

Natalie Elms, M.A.

My Masters Thesis research investigated limitations in expert face processing. I measured holistic processing, featural processing, and configural processing of Chinese and Caucasian faces. Half of my participants (Caucasian) were tested in rural Pennsylvania; the other half were tested in China. My results showed that although adults process both own- and other-race faces holistically, they are slightly more sensitive to featural and spacing differences in own-race faces than in other-race faces. These small differences then contribute to the difficulty we have recognizing other-race faces in our daily lives.

My research was published in Perception.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

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