The effect of inversion on encoding of normal faces and the Thatcher illusion

Luc Boutsen, Glyn Humphreys

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

26 Citations (Scopus)


In the "Thatcher illusion" a face, in which the eyes and mouth are inverted relative to the rest of the face, looks grotesque when shown upright but not when inverted. In four experiments we investigated the contribution of local and global processing to this illusion in normal observers. We examined inversion effects (i.e., better performance for upright than for inverted faces) in a task requiring discrimination of whether faces were or were not "thatcherized". Observers made same/different judgements to isolated face parts (Experiments 1-2) and to whole faces (Experiments 3-4). Face pairs had the same or different identity, allowing for different processing strategies using feature-based or configural information, respectively. In Experiment 1, feature-based matching of same-person face parts yielded only a small inversion effect for normal face parts. However, when feature-based matching was prevented by using the face parts of different people on all trials (Experiment 2) an inversion effect occurred for normal but not for thatcherized parts. In Experiments 3 and 4, inversion effects occurred with normal but not with thatcherized whole faces, on both same- and different-person matching tasks. This suggests that a common configural strategy was used with whole (normal) faces. Face context facilitated attention to misoriented parts in same-person but not in different-person matching. The results indicate that (1) face inversion disrupts local configural processing, but not the processing of image features, and (2) thatcherization disrupts local configural processing in upright faces.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)955-975
Number of pages21
JournalThe Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2003


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