Developmental trajectory of familiar and unfamiliar face recognition in children: evidence in support of experience

Molly Humphreys


The ability to recognise faces and where the ability stems from is a much debated topic in psychology. This study sought to replicate Jenkins, White, Van Montfort and Burton’s (2011) simple paradigm to investigate the developmental trajectory of face processing. This study was conducted with 234 participants, formed of three age groups; 4-5 year olds (N=78), 8-9 year olds (N=78) and 18-21 year olds (N=78). All participants were provided with two separate piles containing 60 photographs each and were asked to sort them into piles according to their identity. One pile contained photographs of two well known popstars’ faces (familiar) and one pile contained photos of two unfamiliar faces. We found that children, like adults, created more piles for unfamiliar faces. However, when controlling for total number of piles made, we found no difference between an adult’s ability to recognise familiar and unfamiliar faces, suggesting a flaw in Jenkins et al.’s original study. We also found that children produced more errors with familiar faces, which merits further exploration. We suggest that it is our experience with faces and our practice with face matching that enables us to recognise. 

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