Familiarity enhances visual working memory for faces

Margaret C Jackson, Jane E Raymond

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

108 Citations (Scopus)


Although it is intuitive that familiarity with complex visual objects should aid their preservation in visual working memory (WM), empirical evidence for this is lacking. This study used a conventional change-detection procedure to assess visual WM for unfamiliar and famous faces in healthy adults. Across experiments, faces were upright or inverted and a low- or high-load concurrent verbal WM task was administered to suppress contribution from verbal WM. Even with a high verbal memory load, visual WM performance was significantly better and capacity estimated as significantly greater for famous versus unfamiliar faces. Face inversion abolished this effect. Thus, neither strategic, explicit support from verbal WM nor low-level feature processing easily accounts for the observed benefit of high familiarity for visual WM. These results demonstrate that storage of items in visual WM can be enhanced if robust visual representations of them already exist in long-term memory.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)556-568
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2008


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