A new study revealed that the brain stores both a face and its facial expressions in a person’s memory, suggesting that facial “expressions are a part of facial identify representation.”

On the hand, this new study, published in the journal i-Perception, clearly demonstrated that facial expressions of unfamiliar faces could prevent telling these faces apart.

The study involved having the participants learn the identities of two actors by using their ‘ambient’ (naturalistic) face images taken from movies.

The participants familiarized themselves with either the ‘neutral’ or the ‘expressive’ faces, the ‘perceived expressiveness having been determined experimentally,’ according to the report.

Responses of those who underwent the ‘expressive’ training were slower and more erroneous than the responses of those who underwent the ‘neutral’ training, according to the report.

“When tested with novel images of the actors that varied in expressiveness, neutrally trained participants gave slower and less accurate responses to images of high compared to low expressiveness. These findings clearly demonstrate that facial expressions impede the processing and learning of facial identity,” the report said.

Annabelle Redfern from the School of Experimental Psychology, the study’s lead researcher, said in a statement: “Our approach was to use several hundred pictures of faces taken from movies, which meant that the images in these experiments resemble the sorts of faces that we see every day. We measured people’s reaction times and their accuracy at telling unfamiliar faces apart, and how this differed when the faces were very expressive compared to when they had a neutral expression.”

She further said these findings indicate that the brain does not treat facial expressions and facial identity separately, adding that “we may mentally store someone’s expressions along with their faces.”

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