A Lower-Class Advantage in Face Memory

Pia Dietze, Sally Olderbak, Andrea Hildebrandt, Laura Kaltwasser, Eric D. Knowles

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


People remember what they deem important. In line with research suggesting that lower-class (vs. higher class) individuals spontaneously appraise other people as more relevant, we show that social class is associated with the habitual use of face memory. We find that lower-class (vs. higher class) participants exhibit better incidental memory for faces (i.e., spontaneous memory for faces they had not been instructed to memorize; Studies 1 and 2). No social-class differences emerge for faces participants are instructed to learn (Study 2), suggesting that this pattern reflects class-based relevance appraisals rather than memory ability. Study 3 extends our findings to eyewitness identification. Lower-class (vs. higher-class) participants’ eyewitness accuracy is less impacted by the explicit relevance of a target (clearly relevant thief vs. incidental bystander). Integrative data analysis shows a robust negative association between social class and spontaneous face memory. Preregistration (Studies 1 and 3) and cross-cultural replication (Study 2) further strengthen the results.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)285-298
Number of pages14
JournalPersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2024


  • eyewitness identification
  • face memory
  • relevance appraisals
  • social class

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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