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The face inversion effect in microgravity: is gravity used as a spatial reference for complex object recognition?

Complex objects are better recognized under a specific orientation. When presented upside down, a face, even very familiar, is recognized with greater difficulty than when presented upright ("Inversion effect"). Up to now it was not possible to decide whether the direction provided by gravity or the one provided by the retina and the body constitutes the spatial reference involved in this "Inversion effect". Three cosmonautes learned photographed faces on the ground and had to recognize them both on ground and on flight. Other photographed faces were learned in flight and where presented for recognition on flight. Results show that the Inversion effect is still present on flight for faces that have been learned on ground as well as for those learned on flight. Persistence of the inversion effect in 0-G shows that gravity is not involved as a spatial reference in recognition of faces. Learning and recognition performances of faces learned in flight were significantly lower than performances for faces learned on ground. A possible role of gravity in configural processing, but not in the Inversion effect, is suggested.



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