Face familiarity promotes stable identity recognition: Exploring face perception using serial dependence

Rebecca Kok, Jessica Taubert*, Erik Van der Burg, Gillian Rhodes, David Alais

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Studies suggest that familiar faces are processed in a manner distinct from unfamiliar faces and that familiarity with a face confers an advantage in identity recognition. Our visual system seems to capitalize on experience to build stable face representations that are impervious to variation in retinal input that may occur due to changes in lighting, viewpoint, viewing distance, eye movements, etc. Emerging evidence also suggests that our visual system maintains a continuous perception of a face’s identity from one moment to the next despite the retinal input variations through serial dependence. This study investigates whether interactions occur between face familiarity and serial dependence. In two experiments, participants used a continuous scale to rate attractiveness of unfamiliar and familiar faces (either experimentally learned or famous) presented in rapid sequences. Both experiments revealed robust inter-trial effects in which attractiveness ratings for a given face depended on the preceding face’s attractiveness. This inter-trial attractiveness effect was most pronounced for unfamiliar faces. Indeed, when participants were familiar with a given face, attractiveness ratings showed significantly less serial dependence. These results represent the first evidence that familiar faces can resist the temporal integration seen in sequential dependencies and highlight the importance of familiarity to visual cognition.

Original languageEnglish
Article number160685
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2017


This research was supported by Discovery Project DP150101731 from the Australian Research Council to D.A.

FundersFunder number
Australian Research CouncilDP150101731


    • Face perception
    • Face recognition
    • Inter-trial effects
    • Object continuity


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