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When normal faces are rapidly presented in the visual periphery, they are perceived as grotesque and distorted (Tangen, Murphy & Thompson, 2011). This phenomenon, “The flashed-face distortion effect” (FFD) is a powerful illusion that may reveal important properties of how faces are coded in peripheral vision. Despite the strength of the illusion (and its popularity), there has been almost no follow-up work to examine what governs the strength of the illusion or to develop a clear account of its phenomenology. Presently, our goal was to address this by manipulating aspects of facial appearance and spatial/temporal properties of the flashed-face stimulus to determine what factors modulate the illusion’s strength. In three experiments, we investigated the extent to which local contrast (operationalized by the presence or absence of makeup), image eccentricity, image size, face inversion, and presentation rate of images within the sequence each contributed to the strength of the FFD. We found that some of these factors (eccentricity and presentation rate) mattered a great deal, while others (makeup, face inversion and image size) made little contribution to the strength of the FFD. We discuss the implications of these results for a mechanistic account of the FFD, and suggest several avenues for future research based on this compelling visual illusion.
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