Facial recognition is widely thought to involve a holistic perceptual process, and optimal recognition performance can be rapidly achieved within two fixations. However, is facial identity encoding likewise holistic and rapid, and how do gaze dynamics during encoding relate to recognition? While having eye movements tracked, participants completed an encoding (“study”) phase and subsequent recognition (“test”) phase, each divided into blocks of one- or five-second stimulus presentation time conditions to distinguish the influences of experimental phase (encoding/recognition) and stimulus presentation time (short/long). Within the first two fixations, several differences between encoding and recognition were evident in the temporal and spatial dynamics of the eye-movements. Most importantly, in behavior, the long study phase presentation time alone caused improved recognition performance (i.e., longer time at recognition did not improve performance), revealing that encoding is not as rapid as recognition, since longer sequences of eye-movements are functionally required to achieve optimal encoding than to achieve optimal recognition. Together, these results are inconsistent with a scan path replay hypothesis. Rather, feature information seems to have been gradually integrated over many fixations during encoding, enabling recognition that could subsequently occur rapidly and holistically within a small number of fixations.
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