Person knowledge shapes face identity perception

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Description: Recognition of others’ identity through facial features is essential in human life. Here, we examined how person knowledge may bias the perception of others’ facial identity. In five studies, using correlational (Studies 1–4) and experimental approaches (Study 5), we examine the representational structure of facial identities across conceptual, perceptual, and visual levels. When a participant believed any two individuals were more similar in terms of their personality, their faces were perceived to be correspondingly more similar (assessed via computer mouse-tracking; Studies 1–2), even when controlling for faces’ intrinsic physical similarity. Further, participants’ visual representations of faces belonging to individuals believed to have a more similar personality were found to have a greater physical resemblance (assessed via reverse-correlation tasks; Studies 3–4). Finally, the effect persisted when participants learned about novel faces randomly linked with different personality traits (e.g., trustworthiness), implicating a causal role of person knowledge (Study 5). Together, the findings suggest that the perception of facial identity is driven not only by facial features but also the person knowledge we have learned about others.

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