Association and Dissociation between Detection and Discrimination of Objects of Expertise: Evidence from Visual Search

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Expertise in face recognition is characterized by high proficiency in distinguishing between individual faces. However, faces also enjoy an advantage at the early stage of basic-level detection, as demonstrated by efficient visual search for faces among nonface objects. In the present study, we asked (1) whether the face advantage in detection is a unique signature of face expertise, or whether it generalizes to other objects of expertise, and (2) whether expertise in face detection is intrinsically linked to expertise in face individuation. We compared how groups with varying degrees of object and face expertise (typical adults, developmental prosopagnosics [DP], and car experts) search for objects within and outside their domains of expertise (faces, cars, airplanes, and butterflies) among a variable set of object distractors. Across all three groups, search efficiency (indexed by reaction time slopes) was higher for faces and airplanes than for cars and butterflies. Notably, the search slope for car targets was considerably shallower in the car experts than in nonexperts. Although the mean face slope was slightly steeper among the DPs than in the other two groups, most of the DPs’ search slopes were well within the normative range. This pattern of results suggests that expertise in object detection is indeed associated with expertise at the subordinate level, that it is not specific to faces, and that the two types of expertise are distinct facilities. We discuss the potential role of experience in bridging between low-level discriminative features and high-level naturalistic categories.



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