How often do you see a face that you know you’ve seen before, but you simply can’t connect a name to? If you’re like me, it happens nearly every day. Face recognition experts know this is because our brains are hard-wired to recall specific faces. The semantic information about those faces is stored separately.
But faces are complex — especially when we need to remember enough about a face to distinguish it from others. If we’re presented with just a glimpse of a face, is that enough to place it in memory? A new study by Kim Curby and Isabel Gauthier examined that question:
Study participants studied up to five faces on a screen for varying lengths of time (up to four seconds). A single face was later presented and participants decided if this was a face that was part of the original display. For a comparison, the process was repeated with other objects, like watches or cars.
Curby and Gauthier found that when participants studied the displays for only a brief amount of time (half a second), they could store fewer faces than objects in VSTM [visual short term memory]. They believe this is because faces are more complex than watches or cars and require more time to be encoded. Surprisingly, when participants were given more time to encode the images (four seconds), an advantage for faces over objects emerged.
Unfortunately, the study provides no insight as to why I can’t remember the name of the barista I see every day in the coffee shop, or even my neighbor three doors down.
In other news:
- Laughter really is contagious
- Bats rely on the earth’s magnetic field for navigation, just like pigeons
- Why teens do stupid things. Surprisingly, not just because they’re stupid.