Cognition and law


Remembering and recognising faces


§  Processes involved in recognition of faces.

Face identification – where you can recognise a face and put a name to it.

Face recognition – where you can recognise a face but are unable to put a name to it.

Face recall – where you can create a mental image and recall features of the face


Explanations for face recognition,


§  Feature analysis

Feature analysis is a bottom up theory which says we recognise faces in terms of the individual components of the face, such as nose shape or hair colour.


Aim – Shepherd et al set out to investigate which features are used in recall descriptions.

Method – Participants were shown unfamiliar faces and asked to describe them.

Results – Hair, nose, eyes and mouth were the main features described in recall.

Conclusion – It supports the idea that we remember faces in terms of their individual features.

Evaluation – The experiment is reliable as it uses the experimental method. This is good as it means it is scientific, in which studies are objective and can be replicated, increasing validity.


Evaluation of feature analysis

§  The explanation neglects other seemingly important information, such as facial expression.

§  Research into scrambled faces has shown that the configuration of features is important also. As when features of the face are scrambled up, it takes longer to recognise a face. If only features alone were important then it shouldn’t make a difference where they’re located.

§  The explanation is reductionist as it explains face recognition in terms of features alone, and with this, clinical research has found it to be too simple.

§  For instance, capgras syndrome in which the individual can recognise a face but believes that the person is an imposter, and prosopagnosia in which the individual cannot recognise the whole face, only individual features, suggest that something more is needed to recognise faces, such as emotions.


§  Holistic explanation

The holistic explanation is top down theory which says that highly complex semantic processes are responsible for face recognition, in which we look at faces as a whole, not in terms of their individual components.


Bruce believed that there is a process we go through each time we are presented with a face, in which he created the sequential model. First the familiar face is structurally encoded, this activates face recognition units, activation of person identity nodes takes place and in turn, name generation occurs.


Aim – Young et al set out to investigate face recognition in everyday life.

Method – Throughout the world, 22 participants kept a diary for 8 weeks, recording times when they had difficulty recognising someone they knew.

Results – Over 1000 incidents were recorded, in which there were no reports of naming someone without knowing anything else about them.

Conclusion – The study supports the holistic explanation for face recognition as it


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