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WIREs Cogn Sci
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Development of face processing

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Abstract This article reviews the development of the face‐processing system from birth, during infancy and through childhood, until it becomes the sophisticated system observed in adults. We begin by discussing the following major theoretical issues concerning the development of face expertise: (1) nature versus nurture or the role of experience in face processing, (2) level of processing (i.e., global, basic, subordinate, individual) and expertise, and (3) type of processing (i.e., holistic, configural, featural). This general overview will be followed by a closer examination of individual studies that investigate the development of face processing. These studies will include a review of (1) development of differential processing of faces and objects, (2) development of differential processing of faces of different species, (3) developmental changes in processing facial identity, and (4) developmental changes in the categorization of faces. Our review of the developmental literature reveals early competence in face‐processing abilities with infants presenting a preference for face stimuli and facial discrimination using featural, configural, and holistic cues. This early competence is then later refined as evidenced by age‐related changes throughout childhood. Some of the refinements are likely due to the development of general cognitive abilities, whereas some others may be face‐specific. WIREs Cogni Sci 2011 2 666–675 DOI: 10.1002/wcs.146 This article is categorized under: Psychology > Development and Aging

Example of a featural change (i.e., eyes) made by switching the eyes of the two original faces on the left to make the two altered faces on the right (a). Example of configural changes (i.e., male face: spacing between the eyes; female face: spacing between the nose and mouth) with original faces on the left and altered faces on the right (b). Example of stimuli that can be used to examine holistic face processing (c). If asked to decide whether the top parts of two faces are identical or different, the composite faces on the left (which have different bottom parts) make it harder to simply process the top part of the face in isolation from the bottom part of the face—a task that is easier when the top and bottom parts of the face are segregated as shown on the right.

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Example of a face‐like stimulus (left) that is preferred over a non‐face stimulus (right) by infants.

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