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We Have a Memory Advantage for Faces
NSF-funded researchers from Vanderbilt University found that we can hold more faces than other objects in short-term memory. Humans have a highly specialized region of the brain used for face processing, and this seems to allow us to encode them in a more efficient manner than other objects. But apparently, this expert skill requires time. Isabel Gauthier and Kim Curby found that when participants studied displays of faces or objects for only a brief amount of time (half a second), they could store fewer faces than objects such as watches and cars in visual short-term memory. They believe this is because faces are more complex than the other objects and require more time to be encoded. When participants were given additional time to encode the images (up to four seconds), an advantage for faces over objects emerged. Interestingly, only upright faces, with which we are most familiar, and not upside-down faces, show this advantage. This work conducted by the Temporal Dynamics Learning Center challenges previous models that assume the capacity of visual short-term memory is inflexible. Understanding the time constraints under which experts show the largest memory capacity may be useful in designing training protocols and software used in the workplace.