Memory & Cognition

, Volume 35, Issue 8, pp 1966-1976

First online:

Adaptation effects of highly familiar faces: Immediate and long lasting

  • Claus-Christian CarbonAffiliated withFaculty of Psychology, University of Vienna Email author 
  • , Tilo StrobachAffiliated withHumboldt University Berlin
  • , Stephen R. H. LangtonAffiliated withUniversity of Stirling
  • , Géza HarsányiAffiliated withHumboldt University Berlin
  • , Helmut LederAffiliated withFaculty of Psychology, University of Vienna
  • , Gyula KovácsAffiliated withUniversity of RegensburgBudapest University of Technology and Economics


A central problem of face identification is forming stable representations from entities that vary—both in a rigid and nonrigid manner—over time, under different viewing conditions, and with altering appearances. Three experiments investigated the underlying mechanism that is more flexible than has often been supposed. The experiments used highly familiar faces that were first inspected as configurally manipulated versions. When participants had to select the veridical version (known from TV/media/movies) out of a series of gradually altered versions, their selections were biased toward the previously inspected manipulated versions. This adaptation effect (face identity aftereffect, Leopold, Rhodes, Müller, & Jeffery, 2005) was demonstrated even for a delay of 24h between inspection and test phase. Moreover, the inspection of a specific image version of a famous person not only changed the veridicality decision of the same image, but also transferred to other images of this person as well. Thus, this adaptation effect is apparently not based on simple pictorial grounds, but appears to have a rather structural basis. Importantly, as indicated by Experiment 3, the adaptation effect was not based on a simple averaging mechanism or an episodic memory effect, but on identity-specific information.