I Know Your Face: Recognition Hypermnesia for Faces

by Jordie Skinner

In this study we attempted to demonstrate hypermnesia with regards to faces. Hypermnesia has been defined by a number of researchers, but all definitions essentially focus on the same construct, improved memory over repeated testing. In previous research, hypermnesia had been more readily demonstrated in terms of recall performance and significant empirical material has been constructed to support recognition hypermnesia. In our study we expected to observe recognition hypermnesia with faces. This expectation is based in part on previous research showing recognition hypermnesia for visual stimuli (Bergstein & Erdelyi, 2008). Erdelyi and Stein (1981) produced the first methodologically viable recognition hypermnesia using cartoons as their stimuli but were unsuccessful in terms of finding hypermnesia with the verbal captions associated with the cartoons. With regards to applying this to our study, we believed that faces are highly visual stimuli and lend themselves to recognition hypermnesia. We had 31 participants shown a list of 30 names and faces and were told to commit them to memory for later testing. During the first test phase participants were shown a list of 60 faces, 30 of which were previously seen by them in the study phase and 30 of which were previously not seen, these were known as foils. The participants were then instructed before the faces appeared that they were to identify on an answer sheet (either circle yes or no) if the face on the screen was a new face – a face they had not previously studied, or an old face – one that they had previously study. They were also told that if they did recognize a particular face as one they had previously studied, they were to write down the name that was paired with that particular face during the study session. Participants completed the testing phase three times. In line with previous research reported by Otani & Hodges (1991) and Payne & Roediger (1987) we were unsuccessful in demonstrating recognition hypermnesia, specifically, in our case, with faces. In fact, across tests there was a “two-way” exchange of decreasing hit rate and increasing false alarm rate seen in the results. An increase in false alarms showed that the memory trace for the faces was weak and that they were encoded weakly into the participant’s memories. Reducing the number of faces may allow them to remember the names associated with the faces better which would then act as a memory cue for that particular face, again increasing probability of recognition hypermnesia to occur.