Although infants demonstrate sensitivity to some kinds of perceptual information in faces, many face capacities continue to develop throughout childhood. One debate is the degree to which children perceive faces analytically versus holistically and how these processes undergo developmental change. In the present study, school-aged children and adults performed a perceptual matching task with upright and inverted face and house pairs that varied in similarity of featural or 2nd order configural information. Holistic processing was operationalized as the degree of serial processing when discriminating faces and houses [i.e., increased reaction time (RT), as more features or spacing relations were shared between stimuli]. Analytical processing was operationalized as the degree of parallel processing (or no change in RT as a function of greater similarity of features or spatial relations). Adults showed the most evidence for holistic processing (most strongly for 2nd order faces) and holistic processing was weaker for inverted faces and houses. Younger children (6-8 years), in contrast, showed analytical processing across all experimental manipulations. Older children (9-11 years) showed an intermediate pattern with a trend toward holistic processing of 2nd order faces like adults, but parallel processing in other experimental conditions like younger children. These findings indicate that holistic face representations emerge around 10 years of age. In adults both 2nd order and featural information are incorporated into holistic representations, whereas older children only incorporate 2nd order information. Holistic processing was not evident in younger children. Hence, the development of holistic face representations relies on 2nd order processing initially then incorporates featural information by adulthood.

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Published in Frontiers in Psychology, v. 6, article 1165, p. 1-16.

© 2015 Joseph, DiBartolo and Bhatt.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

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Funding for this research was provided by the National Institutes of Health (R01 HD052724, R01 HD042451).

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