I study the roles of perceptual and conceptual information in acquiring familiarity.
The human ability to identify faces is remarkable for familiar faces, but prone to many errors for unfamiliar faces. Since all familiar faces were once unfamiliar, this gap between familiar and unfamiliar faces raises the question of what type of information is acquired during familiarization that underlies this superior recognition that we show for familiar faces. Current theories emphasize the role of rich perceptual experience that we have with familiar faces in underlying this ability. However, familiar faces are not only rich in perceptual information but are also rich with semantic information. Yet, the role of semantic information in acquiring face familiarity remained mostly unknown.
Results from a recent set of studies that we conducted show an advantage for learning faces in association with semantic information as compared to studying faces with rich perceptual information, suggesting that semantic information plays a dominant part in acquiring familiarity.
My study will further include an EEG study that will examine whether semantic information modifies the nature of the visual representation of faces in the visual working memory (VWM) by examining an ERP component that has been shown to reflect the amount of visual information stored in the VWM.
Finally, I plan to examine the roles of different brain areas and among them the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) in association of semantic information to faces. I plan to examine whether delivering inhibitory repetitive transcranial magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) to the DLPFC following learning may abolish the advantage that we observed for faces associated with semantic information than faces presented alone.
Taken together these studies will not only allow us to disentangle the roles of perceptual and conceptual information in face recognition but will also shed light on what seems to be the important role of conceptual information in recognition of familiar faces, which has been mostly ignored so far.