The Roles of Perceptual and Conceptual Information in Face Recognition

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The representation of familiar objects is comprised of perceptual information about their visual properties as well as the conceptual knowledge that we have about them. What is the relative contribution of perceptual and conceptual information to object recognition? Here, we examined this question by designing a face familiarization protocol during which participants were either exposed to rich perceptual information (viewing each face in different angles and illuminations) or with conceptual information (associating each face with a different name). Both conditions were compared with single-view faces presented with no labels. Recognition was tested on new images of the same identities to assess whether learning generated a view-invariant representation. Results showed better recognition of novel images of the learned identities following association of a face with a name label, but no enhancement following exposure to multiple face views. Whereas these findings may be consistent with the role of category learning in object recognition, face recognition was better for labeled faces only when faces were associated with person-related labels (name, occupation), but not with person-unrelated labels (object names or symbols). These findings suggest that association of meaningful conceptual information with an image shifts its representation from an image-based percept to a view-invariant concept. They further indicate that the role of conceptual information should be considered to account for the superior recognition that we have for familiar faces and objects.

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