An evaluation of two commonly used tests of unfamiliar face recognition

Neuropsychologia. 2003;41(6):713-20. doi: 10.1016/s0028-3932(02)00222-1.


The Warrington Recognition Memory for Faces (RMF) and the Benton Facial Recognition Test (BFRT) are commercially available tests that are commonly used by clinicians and cognitive neuropsychologists to evaluate unfamiliar face recognition. Yet, it is not clear that a normal score on either instrument demonstrates normal unfamiliar face recognition. Because the RMFs stimuli contain abundant non-internal facial feature information, subjects may be able to score in the normal range without using internal facial features. On the BFRT, subjects commonly rely on feature matching strategies using the hairline and eyebrows rather than recognizing the facial configuration. To test whether these routes to recognition can support normal performance, normal subjects were tested with versions of the RMF and the BFRT in which the faces had been painted over in a way that prevented the operation of some of the procedures normally involved with face recognition. Even though these modifications removed all of the internal feature information in the RMF, many subjects scored in the normal range, and despite precluding the use of configural processing in the BFRT, many of the scores were in the normal range. As a result, it is apparent that normal scores on these tests do not demonstrate normal unfamiliar face recognition and so clinicians should be cautious in interpreting scores in the normal range. Finally, these results place in question models supported by dissociations involving normal performance on these tests.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Face*
  • Female
  • Form Perception*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests / standards*
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual*