Incongruence in lighting impairs face identification

Denise Y. LIM, Alan L. F. LEE, Charles C-F OR

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review


The effect of uniform lighting on face identity processing is little understood, despite its potential influence on our ability to recognize faces. Here, we investigated how changes in uniform lighting level affected face identification performance during face memory tests. Observers were tasked with learning a series of faces, followed by a memory test where observers judged whether the faces presented were studied before or novel. Face stimuli were presented under uniform bright or dim illuminations, and lighting across the face learning and the memory test sessions could be the same (“congruent”) or different (“incongruent”). This led to four experimental conditions: (1) Bright/Dim (learning bright faces, testing on dim faces); (2) Bright/Bright; (3) Dim/Bright; and (4) Dim/Dim. Our results revealed that incongruent lighting levels across sessions (Bright/Dim and Dim/Bright) significantly reduced sensitivity (d’) to faces and introduced conservative biases compared to congruent lighting levels (Bright/Bright and Dim/Dim). No significant differences in performance were detected between the congruent lighting conditions (Bright/Bright vs. Dim/Dim) and between the incongruent lighting conditions (Bright/Dim vs. Dim/Bright). Thus, incongruent lighting deteriorated performance in face identification. These findings implied that the level of uniform lighting should be considered in an illumination-specific face representation and potential applications such as eyewitness testimony.
Original languageEnglish
Article number834806
Number of pages8
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 28 Feb 2022

Bibliographical note

This work was supported by NTU HASS Start-Up Grant and Singapore MOE AcRF Tier 1 Grant 2018-T1-001-069 and 2019-T1-001-064 to CO, and 2019-T1-001-060 to CO and AL. DL was a recipient of the SGUnited Traineeships Programme.

Copyright © 2022 Lim, Lee and Or.


  • face identification
  • face recognition
  • face memory
  • lighting
  • mesopic vision
  • eyewitness testimony


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