Smile at a party and people are more likely to remember seeing your face there

Posted on July 9, 2015

The researchers first presented 30 participants (11 men) with 64 unfamiliar face and scene pairings. The faces were either smiling or fearful and they were either presented alongside an image of a happy scene (e.g. a party) or a fear-inducing scene (e.g. a car crash). The participants' task at this stage was simply to indicate whether each face-scene pairing was emotionally congruent or not.

Next came the memory test. Different faces (some previously seen, some new) were flashed up on-screen against a black background and the participants had to say whether they'd seen the face before or if it was entirely new. After each face, three scenes appeared of the same genre (e.g. three party scenes), and the participants had to say which specific scene the face had previously appeared alongside.

Previously seen happy faces were better remembered than fearful faces, but only when they appeared alongside a happy scene. Memory for fearful faces, by contrast, was unaffected by the congruence of the accompanying scene. Why should smiling faces at a party or other happy context be better remembered than a fearful face? The researchers think the combination of a smiling face and happy scene has a broadening effect on observers' attention, enhancing their memories for the face. The researchers also propose that smiling faces have a "unitising effect" whereby the face and its context are bound together in memory. This idea also appeared to be supported by the results: participants were better at remembering the accompanying scenes (happy and fearful) for smiling faces than fearful faces.

Put these two key results together and it means that we're particularly likely to remember a smiling face we saw at a party, and the specific context we saw it in.


Source material from Research Digest

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