Developmental changes in face processing skills
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Expertise in processing differences among faces in the spacing among facial features (second-order relations) is slower to develop than expertise in processing the shape of individual features or the shape of the external contour. To determine the impact of the slow development of sensitivity to second-order relations on various face-processing skills, we developed five computerized tasks that require matching faces on the basis of identity (with changed facial expression or head orientation), facial expression, gaze direction, and sound being spoken. In Experiment 1, we evaluated the influence of second-order relations on performance on each task by presenting them to adults (N=48) who viewed the faces either upright or inverted. Previous studies have shown that inversion has a larger effect on tasks that require processing the spacing among features than it does on tasks that can be solved by processing the shape of individual features. Adults showed an inversion effect for only one task: matching facial identity when there was a change in head orientation. In Experiment 2, we administered the same tasks to children aged 6, 8, and 10 years (N=72). Compared to adults, 6-year-olds made more errors on every task and 8-year-olds made more errors on three of the five tasks: matching direction of gaze and the two facial identity tasks. Ten-year-olds made more errors than adults on only one task: matching facial identity when there was a change in head orientation (e.g., from frontal to tilted up). Together, the results indicate that the slow development of sensitivity to second-order relations causes children to be especially poor at recognizing the identity of a face when it is seen in a new orientation.
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