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Memory. 2009 Jul;17(5):577-96. doi: 10.1080/09658210902976969.

Familiar and unfamiliar face recognition: a review.

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Department of Psychology, University of Kent, Canterbury CT27NP, UK.


Since the 1970s there has been a continuing interest in how people recognise familiar faces (Bruce, 1979; Ellis, 1975). This work has complemented investigations of how unfamiliar faces are processed and the findings from these two strands of research have given rise to accounts that propose qualitatively different forms of representation for familiar and unfamiliar faces. Evidence to suggest that we process familiar and unfamiliar faces in different ways is available from cognitive neuropsychology, brain scanning, and psychophysics. However, in this review we focus on the evidence, available from experimental investigations of how people recognise faces, for different types of representation existing for each type of face. Factors affecting recognition are evaluated in terms of how they apply to familiar and unfamiliar faces and categorised according to the nature of their impact. In the final section this evidence, along with recent advances in the field, is used to explore the way in which unfamiliar faces may become familiar and the factors that may be important for the development of familiar face representations.

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