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01-03-2015 | Original Article | Uitgave 2/2015

Psychological Research 2/2015

Memory for faces: the effect of facial appearance and the context in which the face is encountered

Psychological Research > Uitgave 2/2015
Katia Mattarozzi, Alexander Todorov, Maurizio Codispoti
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The online version of this article (doi:10.​1007/​s00426-014-0554-8) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.


We investigated the effects of appearance of emotionally neutral faces and the context in which the faces are encountered on incidental face memory. To approximate real-life situations as closely as possible, faces were embedded in a newspaper article, with a headline that specified an action performed by the person pictured. We found that facial appearance affected memory so that faces perceived as trustworthy or untrustworthy were remembered better than neutral ones. Furthermore, the memory of untrustworthy faces was slightly better than that of trustworthy faces. The emotional context of encoding affected the details of face memory. Faces encountered in a neutral context were more likely to be recognized as only familiar. In contrast, emotionally relevant contexts of encoding, whether pleasant or unpleasant, increased the likelihood of remembering semantic and even episodic details associated with faces. These findings suggest that facial appearance (i.e., perceived trustworthiness) affects face memory. Moreover, the findings support prior evidence that the engagement of emotion processing during memory encoding increases the likelihood that events are not only recognized but also remembered.

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