Our new recognition memory test for faces is now available on our site. Please visit http://recognitionmemory.org/face-recognition-study/ to take part and see how well you can remember some unfamiliar faces. The stimuli come from the Glasgow Unfamiliar Face Database, developed by Professor Mike Burton and others (Burton, A.M., White, D., & McNeill, A. (2010). The Glasgow Face Matching Test. Behavior Research Methods, 42(1), 286–291. doi:10.3758/BRM.42.1.286). Although most people think they are pretty good at recognising faces, there is a difference between recognising familiar and unfamiliar faces. When we know somebody it is much easier to recognise them, even form a poor quality photograph. However, it is actually rather difficult to recognise unfamiliar faces. Have a go at the online experiment and see for yourself.
In this experiment, we use a different picture for each studied person as test stimuli. The reason for doing this is because most scientists agree that unfamiliar face recognition is achieved by recognising pictures of faces rather than the faces themselves. By using a different picture of each studied face in the test phase of the experiment, we limit the ability to perform the task simply by matching pictures. Rather, to correctly recognise a face you have to match the face in the test stimulus with the representation of that face that you hold in your memory. It is tricky stuff yet our wonderful brains make it seem like child’s play.