The face is a special visual stimulus. Both bottom-up processes for low-level facial features and top-down modulation by face expectations contribute to the advantages of face perception. However, it is hard to dissociate the top-down factors from the bottom-up processes, since facial stimuli mandatorily lead to face awareness. In the present study, using the face pareidolia phenomenon, we demonstrated that face awareness, namely seeing an object as a face, enhances object detection performance. In face pareidolia, some people see a visual stimulus, for example, three dots arranged in V shape, as a face, while others do not. This phenomenon allows us to investigate the effect of face awareness leaving the stimulus per se unchanged. Participants were asked to detect a face target or a triangle target. While target per se was identical between the two tasks, the detection sensitivity was higher when the participants recognized the target as a face. This was the case irrespective of the stimulus eccentricity or the vertical orientation of the stimulus. These results demonstrate that seeing an object as a face facilitates object detection via top-down modulation. The advantages of face perception are, therefore, at least partly, due to face awareness.
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