Apparent contrast can be suppressed or enhanced when presented within surrounding images. This contextual modulation is typically accounted for with models of contrast gain control. Similarly, the appearance of one part of a face is affected by the appearance of the other parts of the face. These influences are typically accounted for with models of face-specific holistic processing. Here we report evidence that facial skin appearance is modulated by adjacent surfaces. In four experiments we measured the appearance of skin evenness and wrinkles in images with increased or decreased contrast between facial skin and adjacent image regions. Increased contrast with adjacent regions made facial skin appear more even and less wrinkled. We found the effect whether faces were presented upright or inverted, and also when facial features were not present, ruling out face-specific holistic processing as an explanation yet fully consistent with contrast gain control. Because the mechanism is not face specific, contrast between skin and any adjacent surface should affect skin appearance. This suggests that adornments such as makeup, hair coloring, clothing, and jewelry could also affect skin appearance through contrast suppression or enhancement, linking these cultural practices to the structure and function of the visual system.
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Russell, R., Batres, C., Jones, A.L., & Porcheron, A. (2019). A role for contrast gain control in skin appearance. Journal of Vision 19(13):11, 1-11.
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