Viewers extract mean and individual identity from sets of famous faces

Markus F. Neumann*, Stefan R. Schweinberger, A. Mike Burton

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

80 Citations (Scopus)


When viewers are shown sets of similar objects (for example circles), they may extract summary information (e.g., average size) while retaining almost no information about the individual items. A similar observation can be made when using sets of unfamiliar faces: Viewers tend to merge identity or expression information from the set exemplars into a single abstract representation, the set average. Here, across four experiments, sets of well-known, famous faces were presented. In response to a subsequent probe, viewers recognized the individual faces very accurately. However, they also reported having seen a merged 'average' of these faces. These findings suggest abstraction of set characteristics even in circumstances which favor individuation of the items. Moreover, the present data suggest that, although seemingly incompatible, exemplar and average representations coexist for sets consisting of famous faces. This result suggests that representations are simultaneously formed at multiple levels of abstraction. (C) 2013 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)56-63
Number of pages8
Issue number1
Early online date13 Apr 2013
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2013


  • set representation
  • ensemble coding
  • face
  • identity
  • averaging
  • statistical properties
  • ensemble statistics
  • rapid extraction
  • unfamiliar faces
  • representation
  • recognition
  • attention
  • familiar
  • images


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