Meta-Analytic Review of the Development of Face Discrimination in Infancy: Face Race, Face Gender, Infant Age, and Methodology Moderate Face Discrimination

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Infants show facility for discriminating between individual faces within hours of birth. Over the first year of life, infants’ face discrimination shows continued improvement with familiar face types, such as own-race faces, but not with unfamiliar face types, like other-race faces. The goal of this meta-analytic review is to provide an effect size for infants’ face discrimination ability overall, with own-race faces, and with other-race faces within the first year of life, how this differs with age, and how it is influenced by task methodology. Inclusion criteria were (a) infant participants aged 0 to 12 months, (b) completing a human own- or other-race face discrimination task, (c) with discrimination being determined by infant looking. Our analysis included 30 works (165 samples, 1,926 participants participated in 2,623 tasks). The effect size for infants’ face discrimination was small, 6.53% greater than chance (i.e., equal looking to the novel and familiar). There was a significant difference in discrimination by race, overall (own-race, 8.18%; other-race, 3.18%) and between ages (own-race: 0- to 4.5-month-olds, 7.32%; 5- to 7.5-month-olds, 9.17%; and 8- to 12-month-olds, 7.68%; other-race: 0- to 4.5-month-olds, 6.12%; 5- to 7.5-month-olds, 3.70%; and 8- to 12-month-olds, 2.79%). Multilevel linear (mixed-effects) models were used to predict face discrimination; infants’ capacity to discriminate faces is sensitive to face characteristics including race, gender, and emotion as well as the methods used, including task timing, coding method, and visual angle.

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