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The Cognitive Process: Recognizing Faces

In: Philosophy and Psychology

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Face Recognition Face perception is the method that the brain and the conscience mind recognize and understand a face, mainly the human face. If there’s one class of stimuli for which recognition is the most important, significant, and frequent, it’s the recognition of faces (Robinson-Riegler & Robinson-Riegler, 2008).Without the ability to recognize familiar faces, we would be awash in a sea of strangers (Robinson-Riegler & Robinson-Riegler, 2008). When we recognize faces it is the most utilized cognitive process we perform on a daily basis. This process lets us interact with others in our environment effectively.

A Model of Face Processing

The Bruce and Young model (1986), which is the most widely cited face processing model, suggests that previous experience with a face influences the middle and latter stages of recognition The model is comprised of several modules, each of them representing a functional separate component (Bruce & Young, 1986). When we see a face, firstly, we form different representations of it. The structural encoding builds these representations. According to the authors, view-centered descriptions are used to analyze facial speech (Campbell, 2011) and facial expressions (Straube, Mothes-Lasch, & Miltner, 2011).

Roles of concepts and Categories A category refers to a grouping of objects or ideas that have some common underlying feature or set of features (Robinson-Riegler & Robinson-Riegler, 2008). The term concept is typically used to refer to the more abstract notion of what that category represents in one’s mind (Robinson-Riegler & Robinson-Riegler, 2008). A concept is the mental representation of a category as summarized by Solomon, Medin, and Lynch (1999), “Concepts are the building blocks of thought " (Robinson-Riegler & Robinson-Riegler, 2008). The function of concepts provides labels suitable for the grouping of objects. Concept are a very significant part of our everyday thought process. Concepts are mental short cuts that help with quicker and efficient understanding of things

identification and Classification
The process of identification is typically labeled object recognition—the processes whereby we match an incoming stimulus with stored representations for the purpose of identification.

Encoding and Retrieval process
Encoding refers to the processes involved in the acquisition of material. Encoding processes are what you engage in when you’re studying material for your next test. You study the material repetitively, generate notes based on what you read, relate it to other material you already know, and/or form a silly picture of it in your head, all in the hope of remembering it later.

attention is the mechanism whereby we bring information into the focus of conscious awareness. repetition. Material that is presented more than once is easier to remember.

rehearsal, which is basically mental practice, improves memory. It’s easy to confuse the concepts of repetition and rehearsal because they are closely related. Repetition refers to the fact that an item is experienced more than once, whereas rehearsal refers to how that item is thought about internally.

Storage of information involves the formation of some type of memory representation, or memory trace. If you’ve encoded some event (like a class lecture) successfully, there should be some remnant of the study experience. (And to do well on an exam, it had better be a pretty big remnant!)

Retrieval refers to your ability to get something out of memory once it has been encoded and stored.
Successful encoding and storage of information is necessary but not sufficient to guarantee later memory recall. Remembering also involves the processes of retrieval, whereby we regain access to encoded information.
Retrieval is necessary to demonstrate that information has been effectively encoded and stored in memory. However, retrieval itself can also be utilized to enhance your ability to retrieve information at a later point in time. In other words, while studying information that you need to remember, it is useful to periodically attempt to retrieve the information you are trying to encode.

Misidentification and self-recognition
Evidence of the ability to recognize one’s own face demonstrates a hemispheric asymmetry.
The right hemisphere seems to be selectively involved in self-face recognition.
Our knowledge of our own face seems inseparable from our general knowledge of self—who we are, our likes and dislikes, our personal history. Whether face recognition involves a special mechanism or is simply a matter of perceptual expertise, there does seem to be evidence to suggest that recognition of one’s own face may be particularly special. case study and brain-imaging evidence suggest that the area of the brain called the fusiform face area (located in the temporal lobes) is specialized for recognizing faces.

Explain the processes associated with face recognition, identification, and classification, using the research you obtained through your literature review.

Explain the roles of concepts and categories in face recognition, identification, and classification.

Analyze the role of encoding and retrieval processes involved with long-term memory and how this affects face recognition.

Discuss at least two possible errors that can occur with face recognition, such as misidentification and self-recognition.

(Robinson-Riegler & Robinson-Riegler, 2008)

Theories about the processes involved in adult face perception have largely come from two sources; research on normal adult face perception and the study of impairments in face perception that are caused by brain injury or neurological illness. This model (developed by psychologists Vicki Bruce and Andrew Young) argues that face perception might involve several independent sub-process working in unison.
1. A 'view centred description' is derived from the perceptual input. Simple physical aspects of the face are used to work out age, gender or simple facial expressions. Most analysis at this stage is on feature-by-feature basis.
2. This initial information is used to create a structural model of the face, which allows it to be compared to other faces in memory, and across views. This explains why that the same person seen from a novel angle can still be recognised. This structural encoding can be seen to be specific for upright faces as demonstrated by the Thatcher effect.
3. The structurally encoded representation is transferred to notional 'face recognition units' which in conjunction with 'person identity nodes' allow the person to be identified by information from semantic memory. Interestingly, the ability to produce someone's name when presented with their face has been shown to be selectively damaged in some cases of brain injury, suggesting that naming may be a separate process from being able to produce other information about a person.
The study of prosopagnosia (an impairment in recognising faces which is usually caused by brain injury) has been particularly helpful in understanding how normal face perception might work. Individuals with prosopagnosia may differ in their abilities to understand faces, and it has been the investigation of these differences which has suggested that several stage theories might be correct.
Face perception is an ability which involves a great deal of the brain, however some areas have been shown to be particularly important. Brain imaging studies typically show a great deal of activity in an area of the temporal lobe known as the fusiform gyrus, an area also known to cause prosopagnosia when damaged (particularly when damage occurs on both sides). This evidence has led to a particular interest in this area and it is sometimes referred to as the fusiform face area for that reason.
Whilst a great deal of resources seem to be used by the mind and brain to understand the face, opinion is divided whether we genuinely develop specific skills for understanding faces, or whether face perception is just part of a general skill for making within-category discriminations, such as recognizing and differentiating between similar animals or plants.
Proponents of this view argue that the differences seen between faces and non-face objects in experimental studies are due to faces being particularly difficult to distinguish. Although we often assume that faces are relatively unique, statistically they are quite similar, so a great deal of cognitive effort is needed to differentiate them. According to this view, faces are nothing more than a particularly difficult class of perceptual object which we have learned to distinguish, much as we would learn to distinguish between other similar objects if much of our communication and survival depended on it.


Carnegie Mellon University (2011, June 1). How the brain processes faces: Neural system responsible for face recognition discovered. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 5, 2012, from¬ /releases/2011/05/110531121319.htm

Estudillo, A.(2012) Facial Memory: The Role of the Pre-Existing Knowledge in Face Processing and Recognition. Europe's Journal of Psychology, Vol. 8(2), 231–244 doi:10.5964/ejop.v8i2.455

Bruce, V., & Young, A. W. (1986). Understanding face recognition. British Journal of Psychology, 77, 305-327. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8295.1986.tb02199.x

Campbell, R. (2011). Speechreading and the Bruce–Young model of face recognition: early findings and recent developments. British Journal of Psychology, 102, 704-710. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8295.2011.02021.x

Straube, T., Mothes-Lasch, M., & Miltner, W. (2011). Neural mechanisms of the automatic processing of emotional information from faces and voices. British Journal of Psychology, 102, 830-848. doi:10.1111/j.2044-295.2011.02056.x

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