A Test of Face Discrimination Ability in Aging and Vision Loss

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Purpose.The ability to recognize faces is fundamental to social interactions but has not been studied extensively in visual disorders such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD). We report here the development of a face discrimination test, in which both response times (RTs) and accuracies are measured. Results are compared for young and older control subjects and older adults with AMD to determine the factors underlying performance on this test.Methods.Subjects were 14 older controls, 11 young adult controls, and 34 individuals with binocular AMD. In the face discrimination test, colored reference photographs of eight people were presented continuously (male faces in the first half of the test, female faces in the second). On each trial, subjects reported which reference face matched the test face (shown with different poses and/or expressions). In addition, the older controls then identified the expression on the test face.Results.The older controls showed generally small numbers of errors (0 to 9%) on the face identifications but more errors on expression identifications (up to 22%). They tended to show shorter RTs (but no changes in accuracy) with repeated presentations of the same face. The young controls responded more quickly, and they made almost no mistakes. Although performance varied, as a group, those with AMD were slower and showed more errors in identification than the older controls did. Across all subjects, both visual acuity and contrast sensitivity contributed significantly to the variances in RTs and accuracy.Conclusions.The group of older controls had poorer and more variable RTs and accuracies than the young controls. Difficulties in face matching, in terms of both accuracy and RT, were observed for subjects with AMD. Performance accuracy and RTs for this new test depended on both visual acuity and contrast sensitivity.

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