HOW ARE WE DRAWN TO FACES WHEN THERE ARE NONE? VISUAL ATTENTION TO FACES, OBJECTS, AND PAREIDOLIA FACES
The human visual system is very sensitive to the presence of faces in the environment. This sensitivity results in the detection of illusory faces in non-face objects, a phenomenon called face pareidolia. In this thesis, I investigate visual attention to pareidolia faces and use it to understand the mechanisms underlying attention to real faces. I focused on two key aspects of visual attention – temporal attention and spatial attention. I examined temporal attention with a set of experiments using the attentional blink paradigm, and I examined spatial attention with a set of experiments using the visual search paradigm. In both sets of experiments, I measured attention to pareidolia faces relative to real faces and control objects. I found consistent results across temporal and spatial experiments which showed an attentional advantage to pareidolia faces compared to control objects. However, pareidolia faces did not capture visual attention as effectively as real faces. Further analyses indicate that attention to pareidolia faces could not be explained by subjective impressions of face-ness in the pareidolia images or computational models of lower-level information in the images. These findings suggest that attention to pareidolia faces is driven by the basic face configuration rather than the details of face parts, whereas attention to real faces is driven by both.