The obligatory nature of holistic processing of faces in social judgments

Alexander Todorov, Valerie Loehr, Nikolaas N. Oosterhof

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Scopus citations


Using a composite-face paradigm, we show that social judgments from faces rely on holistic processing. Participants judged facial halves more positively when aligned with trustworthy than with untrustworthy halves, despite instructions to ignore the aligned parts (experiment 1). This effect was substantially reduced when the faces were inverted (experiments 2 and 3) and when the halves were misaligned (experiment 3). In all three experiments, judgments were affected to a larger extent by the to-be-attended than the to-be-ignored halves, suggesting that there is partial control of holistic processing. However, after rapid exposures to faces (33 to 100 ms), judgments of trustworthy and untrustworthy halves aligned with incongruent halves were indistinguishable (experiment 4a). Differences emerged with exposures longer than 100 ms. In contrast, when participants were not instructed to attend to specific facial parts, these differences did not emerge (experiment 4b). These findings suggest that the initial pass of information is holistic and that additional time allows participants to partially ignore the task-irrelevant context.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)514-532
Number of pages19
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Sensory Systems
  • Ophthalmology


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