Automatic Identification of Familiar Faces

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From the previous studies that have been done, identification of the face has some characteristics of automaticity. Human faces show very crucial information to the reproductive fitness and our survival. It allows people to differentiate between friends and enemies easily. Very little information has been gathered whether facial identification can occur when the attention of a person is taken by another task. In this article, this type of information has been gathered using different experiments. The psychological refractory period paradigm was used. In the first experiments done, the participants identified the faces that were familiar even as their attention was in another task of identifying the tone of the corresponding faces. This indicated the automaticity of identifying faces that are familiar.

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In the second experiments, the participants were not in a position of identifying the familiar faces. This is because they were seeing the faces for the first time. It was also to find out whether facial identification can be parallel with the other methods of facial analysis like facial speed understanding and recognition of expression. The research in this article mainly focused whether the facial processing can work in parallel with the other processes that are perceptual. There is one critical issue that has been neglected for a very long time; this is whether the facial identification needs the central attention resources (Maquestiaux & Francois 2008). This is critical because the central attention resources are one of the primary bottlenecks in processing information in multitasking situations. The conclusion was then made that the identification of the faces automatically is possible. However, it is dependent on the familiarity of the faces.

To do this research, the psychological refractory period paradigm was utilized by the researchers. While using this method, the participants made responses that were fast to two tasks. The interval between the start of task 1 and task 2 stimuli were the independent variable. The response time between response to task 1 and task two were the dependent variables. However, response to task 2 was the main thing that was analyzed. The central bottleneck model was used to explain the psychological refractory period.

In the first experiment, to test whether it is automatic to identify familiar faces, pictures from three famous actors were used. Naturally, identification of a face needs prior knowledge of the face. The faces of familiar celebrities were therefore used. Two tasks were put in place that was tone discrimination as task 1 and the facial identification as task 2. The task 2 was modified, and the faces were made to look familiar. For the tone discrimination, one of the two tons of 1 and 1.5 kHz was represented to the participants using the headphones. For the facial identification, a picture of one of the celebrities was represented on a color monitor of 1-in. high resolution.

The automatic facial identification hypothesis showed that identification of the face on task 2 can occur together with task 1 central process (Jackson & Raymond, 2006). Due to this, there should be enough time to identify both the difficult and the easy faces during the long cognitive slack. To summarize the findings, the participants were in a position of identifying the celebrities faces while doing the concurrent tone task. Following the locus of slack logic, when a manipulated target process is automatic, the effects of the difficulty tasks should be short than long. This was the trend that was observed among the participants.

The previous studies show that only the automaticity for only the simple stimuli such as identifying a letter. Word reading is partly automatic for those readers who are older and the young readers who are skilled. The current studies that have been done using the facial stimuli also show that the facial emotion perception and the facial attractiveness judgment are not automatic. The main aim of the second experiment that was done was therefore to replicate the first experiment using the facial pictures of very different celebrities. Experiment 2 was similar to experiment 1 in the procedure, apparatus, stimuli and design except that the pictures that were used were different.

The findings for this experiment were that the participants were in a position of identifying the celebrities. The difference with experiment 1 was the sustainability difficulty effects at the shorter stimulus onset asynchrony than the longest. This is evidence that identification of familiar faces can operate automatically.

The stimuli and apparatus of experiment 3 were similar to that of experiment 1 and 2. The difference was that the faces that were used were less familiar to the participants. The pictures of the celebrities were represented to the participants, and they were to confirm whether they were familiar with the faces. Those were familiar with the faces were kept out of the research. Four copies of each picture were made, and the 12 pictures were shown to the participants to study as long as they wanted.

The participants were not in a position of naming the entertainers. In summary, the main aim of the experiment was to evaluate the hypothesis that for automatic identification, long-term familiarity is critical. According to this hypothesis, a strong under additive pattern was not observed between the stimulus onset asynchrony and difficulty (Whitman, 2011).

One of the entertainers, Simon Bakers, was common in experiment 3. In experiment four, the same procedure was followed but Simon Baker was replaced by another entertainer Casey Afflecks. The fourth experiment replicated the findings of Experiment 3. This is that the faces that are unfamiliar are not processed to be completely automatic.

The current study was to investigate whether an identification of faces is automatic and whether the identification does not require central attention resources. In the experiments that were performed, the participants tried to identify faces while performing a tone task at the same time. The automatic face identification in experiment 1 and 2 was surprising. Other studies that have been done before show that the other information with the same level of compatibility is not automatic. Experiment 3 and four on the other hand did not suggest full automaticity.

Through the four experiments that were performed, the research, therefore, concluded that facial identification is not fully automatic especially for the unfamiliar faces. As people become more familiar with a face, identification becomes more automatic and finally fully automatic. The automaticity is very impressive because of the fact that faces are objects that are very complex; other simpler objects have proven not to be automatic. The automatic identification of faces that are familiar might originate from the practice of very high levels or high evolutionary importance; it can also be the combination of the two.


Jackson, M. C., & Raymond, J. E. (2006). The role of attention and familiarity in face identification. Attention Perception & Psychophysics. doi:10.3758/BF03208757

Maquestiaux, & Francois, L. (n.d.). Bypassing the central bottleneck after single-task practice in the psychological refractory period paradigm: evidence for task automatization and greedy resource recruitment. (Memory & Cognition.

Whitman, R. D. (2011). Cognition. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

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