Familiarity of Faces: Sense or Feeling?: An Exploratory Investigation With Eye Movements and Skin Conductance

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Where does the experience of familiarity come from? Is it the same as sensory perception? Two novel approaches were combined to investigate the highly adaptive process of familiar face recognition: the inclusion of friends and family members as personally familiar faces and measures of eye movements and skin conductance responses (SCR). A sample of 16 university students was asked to look at photographs of 8 personally familiar faces (friends and relatives) and 8 unfamiliar faces. From the analysis of eye movement patterns, a preference for internal features (mouth, eyes, nose) for both familiar and unfamiliar faces emerged and a significant increase in electrodermal activity was found for personally familiar compared to unfamiliar faces. Higher SCR recovery values were found in response to friends. Findings from this exploratory investigation suggest that familiar faces are not looked at in a special way; instead we “feel” a sense of familiarity that comes and goes faster for relatives than for close friends.

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