When searching a crowd, people can detect a target face only by direct fixation and attention. Once the target is found, it is consciously experienced and remembered, but what is the perceptual fate of the fixated nontarget faces? Whereas introspection suggests that one may remember nontargets, previous studies have proposed that almost no memory should be retained. Using a gaze-contingent paradigm, we asked subjects to visually search for a target face within a crowded natural scene and then tested their memory for nontarget faces, as well as their confidence in those memories. Subjects remembered up to seven fixated, nontarget faces with more than 70% accuracy. Memory accuracy was correlated with trial-by-trial confidence ratings, which implies that the memory was consciously maintained and accessed. When the search scene was inverted, no more than three nontarget faces were remembered. These findings imply that incidental memory for faces, such as those recalled by eyewitnesses, is more reliable than is usually assumed.
Keywords: consciousness; eyewitness memory; face perception; short-term memory; visual search.
© The Author(s) 2016.