Judging the familiarity of strangers: does the context matter?
Context affects face recognition, with people more likely to recognize an acquaintance when that person is encountered in an expected and familiar place. However, we demonstrate that a familiar context can also incorrectly lead to feeling that a stranger is known. More specifically, we asked whether a familiar place can increase the belief that a stranger has been encountered outside of the experimental context (e.g., in the news or in real life). Novel faces were paired with novel places, famous places (landmarks), or neutral (solid color) backgrounds, and participants rated the pre-experimental familiarity of each novel face. Across four experiments, participants misinterpreted the familiarity of the landmark backgrounds as evidence of knowing the faces outside of the experimental context. This effect only disappeared when participants failed to integrate the face with the place, judging that the two did not fit together. Our findings suggest that familiarity is not judged in isolation; rather, people are unable to completely disentangle the familiarity of the individual components of a scene.
Deffler, SA; Brown, AS; Marsh, EJ
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