A bottleneck in face identification: Repetition priming from flanker images

Markus Bindemann*, Rob Jenkins, A. Mike Burton

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


There is evidence that face processing is capacity-limited in distractor interference tasks and in tasks requiring overt recognition memory. We examined whether capacity limits for faces can be observed with a more sensitive measure of visual processing, by measuring repetition priming of flanker faces that were presented alongside a face or a nonface target. In Experiment 1, we found identity priming for face flankers, by measuring repetition priming across a change in image, during task-relevant nonface processing, but not during the processing of a concurrently-presented face target. Experiment 2 showed perceptual priming of the flanker faces, across identical images at prime and test, when they were presented alongside a face target. In a third Experiment, all of these effects were replicated by measuring identity priming and perceptual priming within the same task. Overall, these results imply that face processing is capacity limited, such that only a single face can be identified at one time. Merely attending to a target face appears sufficient to trigger these capacity limits, thereby extinguishing identification of a second face in the display, although our results demonstrate that the additional face remains at least subject to superficial image processing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)192-201
Number of pages10
JournalExperimental Psychology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2007
Externally publishedYes


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