Active Recognition Attempts Induce Updating of Face Memories


While successful retrieval typically strengthens memories, errors made during retrieval attempts can become encoded and bias subsequent remembering. It is not clear however whether such updating occurs during recognition of faces based on their visual properties. We investigated recognition-induced updating of face memories across three experiments, by comparing the effects of active recognition attempts against two control tasks that also exposed participants to erroneous face information while they were not trying to remember. Importantly, we used computer generated facial images drawn from locations in a multidimensional “face space” to match the degree of error that was introduced by the different tasks, enabling us to isolate the role of active retrieval processes in face memory updating. Participants first learned a series of target faces. Next, target faces were shown mixed with similar distractor faces and participants either actively tried to recognize the targets, or tried to encode one of the faces, or selected the face they thought was most distinctive. We then tested participants’ recognition memory for targets in a surprise final test, and measured to what extent their recognition errors on the final test were biased by their responses on the prior task. Across the three experiments, final recognition bias was significantly enhanced after active recognition attempts and was larger following recognition attempts compared to either control task. The findings extend on prior demonstrations that retrieval-induced updating occurs for semantically rich, complex memories by showing that engagement of active retrieval processes during visually-based face recognition can also induce updating.