What's Distinctive About a Distinctive Face?

Vicki Bruce*, A. Mike Burton, Neal Dench

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

88 Citations (Scopus)


In this study we examine the relationship between objective aspects of facial appearance and facial “distinctiveness”. Specifically, we examine whether the extent to which a face deviates from “average” correlates with rated distinctiveness and measures of memorability. We find that, provided the faces are rated with hair concealed, reasonable correlations can be achieved between their physical deviation and their rated distinctiveness. More modest correlations are obtained between physical deviation and the extent to which faces are remembered, either correctly or falsely, after previous study. Furthermore, memory ratings obtained to “target” faces when they have been previously seen (i.e. “hits”) do not show the expected negative correlation with the scores obtained to the same faces when acting as distractors (i.e. “false positives”), though each correlates with rated distinctiveness. This confirms the theory of Vokey and Read (1992) that the typicalityldistinctiveness dimension can be broken down into two orthogonal components: “memorability” and “context-free familiarity”.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)119-141
Number of pages23
JournalThe Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology Section A
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 1994
Externally publishedYes


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