When face recognition fails

K E Patterson, Alan Baddeley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Two studies investigated recognition of pictures of faces, focusing on the effects of changes in appearance of the face from presentation to test and type of processing or encoding. Experiment 1 demonstrated that (a) previously seen faces changed in pose and facial expression were discriminated from "new" faces essentially as well as pictures identical at presentation and test; (b) major changes in the appearance of a face ("disguises") reduced recognition almost to the level of chance; and (c) subjects encoding faces in terms of personality characteristics showed better recognition performance than subjects whose processing was based on physical, facial features. Experiment 2 expanded on result (b), utilizing photographs with systematic variations in pose and in the presence/absence of glasses, wig, and beard. The design required subjects to learn names for target faces and then to identify those targets in a series of test photographs. The manipulation of pose and disguising features produced effects on probability of identification that were orderly and dramatic in magnitude. Simple changes in appearance can effectively interfere with recognition of faces.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)406-17
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of experimental psychology. Human learning and memory
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1977


  • Attention
  • Face
  • Facial Expression
  • Female
  • Form Perception
  • Humans
  • Memory Disorders
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual

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