Museum of Science, Boston

Teammate Memory

Do children remember their teammates better than their rivals?

Many social factors can influence how well adults remember faces. Previous research has shown that adults are best at remembering the faces of members of their social group – including members of their own race or gender. They’re also better at identifying the emotions of members of their group. Even when adults are randomly assigned to a made-up team (e.g., the “blue” or “green” team), they are better at remembering their teammates’ faces than faces from the other team. In this study, we want to know whether children show the same tendencies.

To find out, we assign children (ages 4-12) to either the “blue team” or the “green team.” Then we show them a series of faces with either a blue or green background, indicating which team each person belongs to. For some children, we ask what emotion each face is expressing. For others, we ask them to try to remember all of the faces that they see. To make this memory game a little harder, we distract children with a hidden-picture game for a few minutes after they have studied the faces. Last, we show children a mixture of the faces they saw in the first part of the study and new, unfamiliar faces. We ask them to tell us if each face is one that they have seen before or not.

We predict that older children (around 11-12 years old) will remember faces of their own teammates better than faces on the other team, and they may also be better at identifying the emotions of their teammates.

This study will help us understand how social information can influence our ability to remember others’ faces, and how these processes develop in children.

Learn about other research related to Human Biology.

This research is conducted by the Interpersonal Perception and Communication Lab at Tufts University

Try it at the Museum

Members of the herd, pack, or flock

Animals can often recognize other members of their group. Find the chick hatchery in the Human Body Connection. Do you think the chicks can recognize each other? Would they pay attention to each other’s faces or to other information? How else could animals recognize each other?

Why recognize faces?

Remembering faces is an advantageous skill! Learn about early human evolution in the Human Body Connection. Why would it have been beneficial for our ancestors to remember each other’s faces? Why might we have evolved to have better memory for members of our own social group?

Try it at Home

Pop quiz: Famous Faces

How many faces do you know? Most of us can recognize thousands of faces – from family members to movie stars. Look through some magazines and make a stack of pictures of as many famous people as you can find. Test your friends or family members and see who recognizes the most people! Are some people easier to recognize than others? Do you recognize people who are similar to you (the same gender, ethnicity, or who have the same interests) faster than people who are very different? What else helps you recognize each person?