Face processing: Human perception and principal components analysis

Peter J.B. Hancock*, A. Mike Burton, Vicki Bruce

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

198 Citations (Scopus)


Principal components analysis (PCA) of face images is here related to subjects' performance on the same images. In two experiments subjects were shown a set of faces and asked to rate them for distinctiveness. They were subsequently shown a superset of faces and asked to identify those that had appeared originally. Replicating previous work, we found that hits and false positives (FPs) did not correlate. Those faces easy to identify as being 'seen' were unrelated to those faces easy to reject as being 'unseen.' PCA was performed on three data sets: (1) face images with eye position standardized, (2) face images morphea to a standard template to remove shape information, and (3) the shape information from faces only. Analyses based on PCA of shape-free faces gave high predictions of FPs, whereas shape information itself contributed only to hits. Furthermore, whereas FPs were generally predictable from components early in the PCA, hits appeared to be accounted for by later components. We conclude that shape and 'texture' (the image-based information remaining after morphing) may be used separately by the human face processing system, and that PCA of images offers a useful tool for understanding this system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)26-40
Number of pages15
JournalMemory and Cognition
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1996
Externally publishedYes


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