Why 8-year-olds cannot tell the difference between Steve Martin and Paul Newman:Factors contributing to the slow development of sensitivity to the spacing of facial features Academic Article uri icon

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abstract

  • Children are nearly as sensitive as adults to some cues to facial identity (e.g., differences in the shape of internal features and the external contour), but children are much less sensitive to small differences in the spacing of facial features. To identify factors that contribute to this pattern, we compared 8-year-olds' sensitivity to spacing cues with that of adults under a variety of conditions. In the first two experiments, participants made same/different judgments about faces differing only in the spacing of facial features, with the variations being kept within natural limits. To measure the effect of attention, we reduced the salience of featural information by blurring faces and occluding features (Experiment 1). To measure the role of encoding speed and memory limitations, we presented pairs of faces simultaneously and for an unlimited time (Experiment 2). To determine whether participants' sensitivity would increase when spacing distortions were so extreme as to make the faces grotesque, we manipulated the spacing of features beyond normal limits and asked participants to rate each face on a "bizarreness" scale (Experiment 3). The results from the three experiments indicate that low salience, poor encoding efficiency, and limited memory can partially account for 8-year-olds' poor performance on face processing tasks that require sensitivity to the spacing of features, a kind of configural processing that underlies adults' expertise. However, even when the task is modified to compensate for these problems, children remain less sensitive than adults to the spacing of features.

publication date

  • October 2004