Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Psychology

First Advisor's Name

Lorraine E. Bahrick

First Advisor's Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Mary Levitt

Third Advisor's Name

Ana Gouvea

Fourth Advisor's Name

Robert Lickliter

Keywords

face recognition, face perception, development of face recognition, intersensory face perception, infancy, early childhood

Date of Defense

11-3-2010

Abstract

Perception and recognition of faces are fundamental cognitive abilities that form a basis for our social interactions. Research has investigated face perception using a variety of methodologies across the lifespan. Habituation, novelty preference, and visual paired comparison paradigms are typically used to investigate face perception in young infants. Storybook recognition tasks and eyewitness lineup paradigms are generally used to investigate face perception in young children. These methodologies have introduced systematic differences including the use of linguistic information for children but not infants, greater memory load for children than infants, and longer exposure times to faces for infants than for older children, making comparisons across age difficult. Thus, research investigating infant and child perception of faces using common methods, measures, and stimuli is needed to better understand how face perception develops. According to predictions of the Intersensory Redundancy Hypothesis (IRH; Bahrick & Lickliter, 2000, 2002), in early development, perception of faces is enhanced in unimodal visual (i.e., silent dynamic face) rather than bimodal audiovisual (i.e., dynamic face with synchronous speech) stimulation.

The current study investigated the development of face recognition across children of three ages: 5 – 6 months, 18 – 24 months, and 3.5 – 4 years, using the novelty preference paradigm and the same stimuli for all age groups. It also assessed the role of modality (unimodal visual versus bimodal audiovisual) and memory load (low versus high) on face recognition. It was hypothesized that face recognition would improve across age and would be enhanced in unimodal visual stimulation with a low memory load.

Results demonstrated a developmental trend (F(2, 90) = 5.00, p = 0.009) with older children showing significantly better recognition of faces than younger children. In contrast to predictions, no differences were found as a function of modality of presentation (bimodal audiovisual versus unimodal visual) or memory load (low versus high). This study was the first to demonstrate a developmental improvement in face recognition from infancy through childhood using common methods, measures and stimuli consistent across age.

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