Individual differences in face learning
J.M. Kaufmann, F.J. Neyer, and S.R. Schweinberger
While it has long been held that humans in general are experts in face recognition (Diamond & Carey, 1986), individual differences receive increasing scientific attention (Herzmann et al., 2010) and face perception skills were recently suggested to form an independent part of social competence (Wilhelm et al., 2010). Here we focus on individual differences in face learning and face recognition. Apart from extreme groups such as “superrecognizers”, who never forget a face (Russell, Duchaine, & Nakayama, 2009) and people suffering from prosopagnosia, who do not even recognize faces of close relatives (Behrmann & Avidan, 2005), large variations in the normal population also become increasingly evident (Bate, Parris, Haslam, & Kay, 2010). In addition to further investigating the range of individual differences in face learning, we are interested in construct and criterion validity of these differences. Based on the assumption that reliable individual differences (i.e., retest stability, internal consistency) exist, we assume that face learning and recognition shows convergent validity vis-à-vis established measures of social competence and discriminant validity vis-àvis psychometric intelligence. In addition, the predictive validity regarding real-life outcomes in the domain of interpersonal functioning (i.e., job performance, social relationships in the private and public domain) will be examined.
At present, the functional mechanisms underlying individual differences in face learning and recognition are largely unknown. For instance, it is unclear whether good and poor recognizers utilize different types of information in faces. If so, a question is whether poor recognizers’ performance can be improved by training strategies aiming at critical information. The present project is based on previous research that has contributed to identifying neural markers of face learning and recognition (Kaufmann, Schweinberger, & Burton, 2009; Kaufmann & Schweinberger, 2008; Schweinberger, Pickering, Jentzsch, Burton, & Kaufmann, 2002; Schweinberger, Kaufmann, Moratti, Keil, & Burton, 2007), the influence of shape distinctiveness on forming new face representations (Kaufmann & Schweinberger, 2012) and potential differences regarding the use of shape information by good and poor recognizers (Kaufmann et al., 2011). In the proposed experiments we record performance, ERPs, scan paths and electro-dermal responses in order to study differences between good and poor recognizers. We will explore (1) whether the relative contributions of shape and texture to face recognition depend on face familiarity; (2) inter-hemispheric cooperation in face learning; 3) whether differences in face learning relate to decreased attention and/or emotional response to faces; 4) the functional relationship between face and voice processing.
The ultimate aim of this project is to better understand individual differences in face learning, their relationship to personality traits, and daily-life consequences of these differences (e.g. regarding job performance and social relationships, which may represent the two most important domains of interpersonal functioning). If face recognition proves as a fundamental aspect of “social competence”, we expect that “good” face recognizers will have significant advantages in these domains. Finally, the project will provide crucial information for the development of training strategies for individuals suffering from poor face learning and recognition.