Some research finds that face recognition is largely independent from the recognition of other objects; a specialized and innate ability to recognize faces could therefore have little or nothing to do with our ability to recognize objects. We propose a new framework in which recognition performance for any category is the product of domain-general ability and category-specific experience. In Experiment 1, we show that the overlap between face and object recognition depends on experience with objects. In 256 subjects we measured face recognition, object recognition for eight categories, and self-reported experience with these categories. Experience predicted neither face recognition nor object recognition but moderated their relationship: Face recognition performance is increasingly similar to object recognition performance with increasing object experience. If a subject has a lot of experience with objects and is found to perform poorly, they also prove to have a low ability with faces. In a follow-up survey, we explored the dimensions of experience with objects that may have contributed to self-reported experience in Experiment 1. Different dimensions of experience appear to be more salient for different categories, with general self-reports of expertise reflecting judgments of verbal knowledge about a category more than judgments of visual performance. The complexity of experience and current limitations in its measurement support the importance of aggregating across multiple categories. Our findings imply that both face and object recognition are supported by a common, domain-general ability expressed through experience with a category and best measured when accounting for experience.
© 2014 ARVO.