The face inversion effect does not provide a pure measure of holistic face processing

Christian Gerlach*, Erik Mogensen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


It is widely held that upright faces are processed more holistically than inverted faces and that this difference is reflected in the face inversion effect. It is not clear, however, how the inversion effect can best be measured, whether it is task specific, or even whether it specifically correlates with processing of upright faces. We examined these questions in a large sample (N = 420) who provided data on processing of upright and inverted stimuli in two different tasks with faces and one with objects. We find that the inversion effects are task dependent, and that they do not correlate better among face processing tasks than they do across face and object processing tasks. These findings were obtained regardless of whether inversion effects were measured by means of difference scores or regression. In comparison, only inversion effects based on regression predicted performance with upright faces in tasks other than those the inversion effects were derived from. Critically, however, inversion effects based on regression also predicted performance with inverted faces to a similar degree as they predicted performance with upright faces. Consequently, and contrary to what is commonly assumed, inversion effects do not seem to capture effects specific to holistic processing of upright faces. While the present findings do not bring us closer to an understanding of which changes in cognitive processing are induced by inversion, they do suggest that inversion effects do not reflect a unitary construct; an implicit assumption that seems to characterize much of the research regarding face processing.

Original languageEnglish
JournalBehavior Research Methods
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)330-341
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2024


  • Difference scores
  • Face inversion effect
  • Face processing
  • Holistic processing
  • Individual differences
  • Regression
  • Facial Recognition
  • Humans


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