The Role of Context on Face Identification Accuracy




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When a person is familiar, we are exceptional at recognizing and identifying them, even in difficult viewing conditions. How the frequency and quality of exposures to a given face improves the learning and identification of that face is well-studied. In the following set of experiments, I examined face learning from a different perspective. Here I addressed the question: Are new faces learned based on how they differ from others? In this study, I examined whether robust, generalizable face representations are enhanced by learning what makes someone unique. In the first experiment, I examined whether face learning is improved when a learning context facilitates perceiving differences between faces. The results suggested that identification accuracy was best for learning contexts that facilitated the ability to view faces together, perhaps allowing shared and distinguishing features to be perceived more readily. To directly test the influence of face differences on memory, I conducted a second experiment. In Experiment 2, I tested whether implicitly emphasizing what makes a face unique can improve recognition. Evidence suggested that this process did not improve recognition in a general sense. However, interesting effects of participant race on accuracy suggest that learning contexts can be more or less beneficial for learning, depending on the participant’s experience with faces of a given type. In Experiment 3, I examined shortterm perceptual adaptation as an underlying mechanism that that enhances uniqueness to allow for a generalizable face representation. Although basic perceptual after-effects were replicated, there was no indication that face memory was influenced by short-term perceptual after-effects. Together, this work informs our understanding of how we tell similar-looking people apart and how long-term face representations are influenced by a learning context and environment. The influence of a learning context on face memory may not apply universally to all types of face recognition and identification tasks. The adaptive nature of the visual system and a person’s lifetime of exposure to certain face types may mediate the effect of a given short-term learning context on face recognition and identification



Face perception, Memory—Testing, Perception—Testing, Context effects (Psychology)