Familiarity and Within-Person Facial Variability: The Importance of the Internal and External Features

Robin S.S. Kramer*, Zoi Manesi, Alice Towler, Michael G. Reynolds, A. Mike Burton

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)
58 Downloads (Pure)


As faces become familiar, we come to rely more on their internal features for recognition and matching tasks. Here, we assess whether this same pattern is also observed for a card sorting task. Participants sorted photos showing either the full face, only the internal features, or only the external features into multiple piles, one pile per identity. In Experiments 1 and 2, we showed the standard advantage for familiar faces—sorting was more accurate and showed very few errors in comparison with unfamiliar faces. However, for both familiar and unfamiliar faces, sorting was less accurate for external features and equivalent for internal and full faces. In Experiment 3, we asked whether external features can ever be used to make an accurate sort. Using familiar faces and instructions on the number of identities present, we nevertheless found worse performance for the external in comparison with the internal features, suggesting that less identity information was available in the former. Taken together, we show that full faces and internal features are similarly informative with regard to identity. In comparison, external features contain less identity information and produce worse card sorting performance. This research extends current thinking on the shift in focus, both in attention and importance, toward the internal features and away from the external features as familiarity with a face increases.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-15
Number of pages13
Issue number1
Early online date13 Aug 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2018
Externally publishedYes


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