Recognizing faces in and out of context
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Two experiments are reported which examined the influence of context on face recognition accuracy for novel and familiar faces respectively. Context was manipulated by varying the physical background against which the faces appeared. In Experiment I, 80 student subjects observed 18 faces before attempting to recognize them in a sequence of 36 alternatives. For half the subjects, the backgrounds changed from study to test, while for the remainder they stayed the same. In addition, for half the subjects, both the pose and expression of the face also changed, while for the others it remained constant. Changes in pose plus expression and context significantly reduced recognition accuracy for the target faces. Experiment II used an identical design, except that the faces of celebrities replaced the novel faces. The influence of context was eliminated but the effects of pose and expression were maintained. However, when only faces which were actually identified by subjects were considered, the effects of pose and expression, too, were eliminated. The significance of these findings for theories of contextual memory are discussed.
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