Capacity limits in face detection

Rana Qarooni, Jonathan Prunty, Markus Bindemann, Rob Jenkins*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Face detection is a prerequisite for further face processing, such as extracting identity or semantic information. Those later processes appear to be subject to strict capacity limits, but the location of the bottleneck is unclear. In particular, it is not known whether the bottleneck occurs before or after face detection. Here we present a novel test of capacity limits in face detection. Across four behavioural experiments, we assessed detection of multiple faces via observers' ability to differentiate between two types of display. Fixed displays comprised items of the same type (all faces or all non-faces). Mixed displays combined faces and non-faces. Critically, a ‘fixed’ response requires all items to be processed. We found that additional faces could be detected with no cost to efficiency, and that this capacity-free performance was contingent on visual context. The observed pattern was not specific to faces, but detection was more efficient for faces overall. Our findings suggest that strict capacity limits in face perception occur after the detection step.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105227
Number of pages8
Early online date21 Jul 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2022

Bibliographical note

© 2022 The Authors


  • Capacity limits
  • Face detection
  • Face perception
  • Visual attention

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