Recognition memory for single items can be dissociated from recognition memory for the associations between items. For example, recognition tests for single words produce curvilinear receiver operating characteristics (ROCs), but associative recognition tests for word pairs produce linear ROCs. These dissociations are consistent with dual-process theories of recognition and suggest that associative recognition relies on recollection but that item recognition relies on a combination of recollection and assessments of familiarity. In the present study, we examined associative recognition ROCs for facial stimuli by manipulating the central and external features, in order to determine whether linear ROCs would be observed for stimuli other than arbitrary word pairs. When the faces were presented upright, familiarity estimates were significantly above zero, and the associative ROCs were curvilinear, suggesting that familiarity contributed to associative judgments. However, presenting the faces upside down effectively eliminated the contribution of familiarity to associative recognition, and the ROCs were linear. The results suggest that familiarity can support associative recognition judgments, if the associated components are encoded as a coherent gestalt, as in upright faces.
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