A narrow band of image dimensions is critical for face recognition

Timothy J Andrews*, Daniel Rogers, Mila Mileva, David M Watson, Ao Wang, A Mike Burton

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A key challenge in human and computer face recognition is to differentiate information that is diagnostic for identity from other sources of image variation. Here, we used a combined computational and behavioural approach to reveal critical image dimensions for face recognition. Behavioural data were collected using a sorting and matching task with unfamiliar faces and a recognition task with familiar faces. Principal components analysis was used to reveal the dimensions across which the shape and texture of faces in these tasks varied. We then asked which image dimensions were able to predict behavioural performance across these tasks. We found that the ability to predict behavioural responses in the unfamiliar face tasks increased when the early PCA dimensions (i.e. those accounting for most variance) of shape and texture were removed from the analysis. Image similarity also predicted the output of a computer model of face recognition, but again only when the early image dimensions were removed from the analysis. Finally, we found that recognition of familiar faces increased when the early image dimensions were removed, decreased when intermediate dimensions were removed, but then returned to baseline recognition when only later dimensions were removed. Together, these findings suggest that early image dimensions reflect ambient changes, such as changes in viewpoint or lighting, that do not contribute to face recognition. However, there is a narrow band of image dimensions for shape and texture that are critical for the recognition of identity in humans and computer models of face recognition.

Original languageEnglish
Article number108297
JournalVision Research
Early online date30 Jul 2023
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank Helena von Werthern, Lucy Hammond, and Jessica Barrett for their help on data collection for the sorting task. We would also like to thank Rob Jenkins, Andy Young and members of the York face group for helpful comments during the course of this study.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Author(s)


  • Dimensions
  • Face
  • Identity
  • Recognition
  • Shape
  • Texture

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