Holistic processing is modulated by the probability that parts contain task-congruent information

Kim M. Curby, Lina Teichmann, Mary A. Peterson, Sarah S. Shomstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Holistic processing of face and non-face stimuli has been framed as a perceptual strategy, with classic hallmarks of holistic processing, such as the composite effect, reflecting a failure of selective attention, which is a consequence of this strategy. Further, evidence that holistic processing is impacted by training different patterns of attentional prioritization suggest that it may be a result of learned attention to the whole, which renders it difficult to attend to only part of a stimulus. If so, holistic processing should be modulated by the same factors that shape attentional selection, such as the probability that distracting or task-relevant information will be present. In contrast, other accounts suggest that it is the match to an internal face template that triggers specialized holistic processing mechanisms. Here we probed these accounts by manipulating the probability, across different testing sessions, that the task-irrelevant face part in the composite face task will contain task-congruent or -incongruent information. Attentional accounts of holistic processing predict that when the probability that the task-irrelevant part contains congruent information is low (25%), holistic processing should be attenuated compared to when this probability is high (75%). In contrast, template-based accounts of holistic face processing predict that it will be unaffected by manipulation given the integrity of the faces remains intact. Experiment 1 found evidence consistent with attentional accounts of holistic face processing and Experiment 2 extends these findings to holistic processing of non-face stimuli. These findings are broadly consistent with learned attention accounts of holistic processing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)471-481
Number of pages11
JournalAttention, Perception, and Psychophysics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2024


  • Attention
  • Face processing
  • Holistic processing
  • Probability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Sensory Systems
  • Linguistics and Language


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