Canadian researchers have been studying a 22-year-old woman and lifelong amnesiac who can't remember the faces of anyone unfamiliar or non-famous. Show her a photo of baby-voiced celebutante Paris Hilton, however, and she has almost no trouble identifying who it is. Paris Hilton's face will not be stopped.
In the visuospatial experiment, participants were shown 40 famous faces and 40 non-famous faces and asked to recognize the faces after a short delay. HC [the 22-year-old woman] had more difficulty than the control group in recalling non-famous faces ("unfamiliar" information) scoring 70% in accuracy compared to the control group's 81%. However, HC's recognition of famous faces ("familiar" information) was unimpaired relative to the controls; she scored 85% in accuracy — exactly the same as the control group. Drilling down, HC's "working memory" performance was most robust (89% accuracy) for famous faces with which she was most familiar (for example, Paris Hilton).
What do these results mean for people who suffer from memory disorders? Eh, who cares! What's more worthy of study is the phenomenon by which overexposure can make famous people unforgettable even to people who forget everything. Although Paris Hilton is no longer the omnipresent supermarket tabloid cover subject that she once was, she worked hard enough during the aughts to leave an indelible impression on our collective consciousness—ensuring her a place in the pantheon of unforgettables. If her face can circumvent memory barriers, can it also break through sound barriers? That is what scientists should be studying. [Science Daily, CBC, Image via AP. Thanks to EEA for the tip.]