Naming very familiar people: When retrieving names is faster than retrieving semantic biographical information


Department of Cognitive Science (B-32), University of Liège, B-4000 Liège, Belgium (e-mail:


One of the most reliable findings in the literature on person indentification is that semantic categorization of a face occurs more quickly than naming a face. Here we present two experiments in which participants are shown the faces of their colleagues, i.e., personally familiar people, encountered with high frequency. In each experiment, naming was faster than making a semantic classification, despite the fact that the semantic classifications were highly salient to the participants (Experiment 1: highest degree obtained; Experiment 2: nationality). The finding is consistent with models that allow or parallel access from faces to semantic information and to names, and demonstrates the need for the frequency of exposure to names to be taken into account in models of proper name processing e.g. Burke, Mackay, Worthley and Wade (1991).