Stability from variety: the prototype effect in face recognition - PhDData

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Stability from variety: the prototype effect in face recognition

The thesis was published by Renfrew, Janelle E., in September 2022, University of Stirling.


The central goal of the current thesis was to increase our understanding of how representations of individual faces are built from instances that vary. The prototype effect was used as a tool to probe the nature of our internal face representations. In face recognition, the prototype effect refers to the tendency to recognize, or find familiar, the average image of a face after having studied a series of similar face images. The experiments presented in this thesis investigated the modulating role of different variables on the prototype effect in face recognition. In the study phase, two or more different exemplars based on the same identity were presented. In the test phase, one of the seen exemplars, the unseen prototype, and an unseen exemplar of each studied identity were presented one at a time, and participants were asked to make a recognition judgement about the prior occurrence of either the exact image or the person’s face. Variants of each face identity were either unaltered images of real people’s faces, or they were created artificially by manipulating images of faces using several different techniques. All experiments using artificial variants produced strong prototype effects. The unseen prototype image was recognized more confidently than the actually studied images. This was true even when the variants were so similar that they were barely perceptually discriminable. Importantly, even when participants were given additional exposure to the studied exemplars, no weakening of the prototype effect was observed. Surprisingly, in the experiments using natural images of real people’s faces, no clear recognition advantage for the prototype image was observed. Results suggest that the prototype effect in face recognition might not be tapping an averaging mechanism that operates solely on variations within the same identity.

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