Facial Movements Facilitate Part-Based, Not Holistic, Processing in Children, Adolescents, and Adults

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Abstract

Although most of the faces we encounter daily are moving ones, much of what we know about face processing and its development is based on studies using static faces that emphasize holistic processing as the hallmark of mature face processing. Here the authors examined the effects of facial movements on face processing developmentally in children (8-year-olds), adolescents (12-year-olds), and adults (20-year-olds). In particular, the composite face effect was used to measure the influence of facial movements on part-based versus holistic processing after participants had viewed either a moving or static face in a within-subject design. Experiment 1 examined elastic facial movement (i.e., blinking and chewing). The results showed that children, adolescents, and adults exhibited a significantly smaller composite effect after viewing a moving face than after viewing a static face. This result indicates that elastic facial movement facilitates part-based face processing from at least 8 years of age onward. Experiment 2 examined rigid facial movement (i.e., head turning) and revealed that it too facilitates part-based face processing in children, adolescents, and adults. The results taken together suggest that contrary to the prevailing view, facial movements facilitate part-based, not holistic, face processing in children, adolescents, and adults. The findings call for revision in the conventional way of thinking about what constitutes the developmental trajectory toward mature face processing and also point to the importance of using more naturalistic moving face stimuli to study face processing and its development.

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