The prototype effect in face recognition refers to a tendency to recognize the face corresponding to the central value of a series of seen faces, even when this central value or prototype has not been seen. Five experiments investigated the extension and limits of this phenomenon. In all the experiments, participants saw a series of faces, each one in two or more different versions or exemplars, and then performed a recognition test, including seen and unseen exemplars and the unseen prototype face. In Experiment 1,a strong prototype effect for variations in feature location was demonstrated in oldness ratings and in a standard old/new recognition test. Experiments 2Aand 2Bcompared the prototype ef- fect for variations in feature location and variations in head angle and showed that, for the latter, the prototype effect was weaker and more dependent on similarity than for the former. These results sug- gest that recognition across feature variations is based on an averaging mechanism, whereas recogni- tion across viewpoint variations is based on an approximation mechanism. Experiments3Aand 3Bex- amined the limits of the prototype effect using a face morphing technique that allows a systematic manipulation of face similarity.The results indicated that, as the similarity between face exemplars de- creases to the level of similarity between the faces of different individuals, the prototype effect starts to disappear. At the same time, the prototype effect may originate false memories of faces that were never seen.
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