Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Why We 'Never Forget A Face'

Date:
December 12, 2006
Source:
Vanderbilt University
Summary:
Are you one of those people who never forgets a face? New research from Vanderbilt University suggests that we can remember more faces than other objects and that faces "stick" the best in our short-term memory. The reason may be that our expertise in remembering faces allows us to package them better for memory.

An example of the drawings of faces, watches and cars that were used in the study.
Credit: Courtesy of Isabel Gauthier

Are you one of those people who never forgets a face?

New research from Vanderbilt University suggests that we can remember more faces than other objects and that faces "stick" the best in our short-term memory. The reason may be that our expertise in remembering faces allows us to package them better for memory.

"Our results show that we can store more faces than other objects in our visual short-term memory," Gauthier, associate professor of psychology and the study's co-author, said. "We believe this happens because of the special way in which faces are encoded."

Kim Curby, the study's primary author and a post-doctoral researcher at Yale University, likens such encoding to packing a suitcase.

"How much you can fit in a bag depends on how well you pack it," she said. "In the same way, our expertise in 'packaging' faces means that we can remember more of them."

The findings, part of Curby's dissertation at Vanderbilt, are currently in press at the journal Psychonomic Bulletin and Review.

Curby and Gauthier's research has practical implications for the way we use visual short-term memory or VSTM. "Being able to store more faces in VSTM may be very useful in complex social situations," Gauthier said.

"This opens up the possibility of training people to develop similarly superior VSTM for other categories of objects," Curby added.

Short-term memory is crucial to our impression of a continuous world, serving as temporary storage for information that we are currently using. For example, in order to understand this sentence, your short-term memory will remember the words in the beginning while you read through to the end. VSTM is a component of short-term memory that helps us process and briefly remember images and objects, rather than words and sounds.

VSTM allows us to remember objects for a few seconds, but its capacity is limited. Curby's and Gauthier's new research focuses on whether we can store more faces than other objects in VSTM, and the possible mechanisms underlying this advantage.

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. 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.

The researchers believe that our experience with faces explains this advantage. This theory is supported by the fact that the advantage was only obtained for faces encoded in the upright orientation, with which we are most familiar. Faces that were encoded upside-down showed no advantage over other objects.

"Our work is the first to show an advantage in capacity for faces over other objects," Gauthier explained. "Our results suggest that because experience leads you to encode upright faces in a different manner (not only using the parts, but using the whole configuration) you can store more faces in VSTM."

"What's striking about this is that some of the most prominent, current theories suggest that the capacity of VSTM is set in stone, unalterable by experience," Curby said. "However, our results clearly show that expert learning impacts VSTM capacity."

Curby and Gauthier plan to continue their research on VSTM processes. Their next step will focus on comparing VSTM capacity in people who are experts for other categories of complex objects, such as cars. Later, they will utilize brain imaging to pinpoint the mechanisms in the brain by which faces are encoded more efficiently than other objects.

Gauthier is a member of the Vanderbilt Vision Research Center, the Center for Integrative and Cognitive Neuroscience and the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development.

This research was supported by funding from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the James S. McDonnell Foundation.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Vanderbilt University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Vanderbilt University. "Why We 'Never Forget A Face'." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 December 2006. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/12/061211221200.htm>.
Vanderbilt University. (2006, December 12). Why We 'Never Forget A Face'. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 28, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/12/061211221200.htm
Vanderbilt University. "Why We 'Never Forget A Face'." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/12/061211221200.htm (accessed August 28, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Alice in Wonderland Syndrome

Alice in Wonderland Syndrome

Ivanhoe (Aug. 27, 2014) It’s an unusual condition with a colorful name. Kids with “Alice in Wonderland” syndrome see sudden distortions in objects they’re looking at or their own bodies appear to change size, a lot like the main character in the Lewis Carroll story. Video provided by Ivanhoe
Powered by NewsLook.com
Stopping Schizophrenia Before Birth

Stopping Schizophrenia Before Birth

Ivanhoe (Aug. 27, 2014) Scientists have long called choline a “brain booster” essential for human development. Not only does it aid in memory and learning, researchers now believe choline could help prevent mental illness. Video provided by Ivanhoe
Powered by NewsLook.com
Personalized Brain Vaccine for Glioblastoma

Personalized Brain Vaccine for Glioblastoma

Ivanhoe (Aug. 27, 2014) Glioblastoma is the most common and aggressive brain cancer in humans. Now a new treatment using the patient’s own tumor could help slow down its progression and help patients live longer. Video provided by Ivanhoe
Powered by NewsLook.com
Brain Surgery in 3-D

Brain Surgery in 3-D

Ivanhoe (Aug. 27, 2014) Neurosurgeons now have a new approach to brain surgery using the same 3D glasses you’d put on at an IMAX movie theater. Video provided by Ivanhoe
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins