Face Recognition Ability Matures Late: Evidence From Individual Differences in Young Adults

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Abstract

Does face recognition ability mature early in childhood (early maturation hypothesis) or does it continue to develop well into adulthood (late maturation hypothesis)? This fundamental issue in face recognition is typically addressed by comparing child and adult participants. However, the interpretation of such studies is complicated by children’s inferior test-taking abilities and general cognitive functions. Here we examined the developmental trajectory of face recognition ability in an individual differences study of 18–33 year-olds (n = 2,032), an age interval in which participants are competent test takers with comparable general cognitive functions. We found a positive association between age and face recognition, controlling for nonface visual recognition, verbal memory, sex, and own-race bias. Our study supports the late maturation hypothesis in face recognition, and illustrates how individual differences investigations of young adults can address theoretical issues concerning the development of perceptual and cognitive abilities.

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