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Keywords:

  • face recognition;
  • own-race effect;
  • own-age effect;
  • gender effect;
  • species effect;
  • infancy;
  • adolescence;
  • developmental tasks;
  • vision;
  • plasticity;
  • early experience

Abstract

The nature of the developmental trajectory of face recognition abilities from infancy through adulthood is multifaceted and currently not well understood. We argue that the understanding of this trajectory can be greatly informed by taking a more functionalist approach in which the influence of age-appropriate developmental tasks and goals are considered. To build this argument, we provide a focused review of developmental change across several important biases within face processing (species, race, age, and gender biases) from infancy through adulthood. We show that no existing theoretical framework can simultaneously and parsimoniously explain these very different trajectories and relative degrees of plasticity. We offer several examples of infant- and adolescent-specific developmental tasks that we predict have an essential influence on the content and description of information that individuals need to extract from faces at these very different developmental stages. Finally, we suggest that this approach may provide a unique opportunity to study the role of early experience in (i.e., age of acquisition effects) and the quality and range of experiences that are critical for shaping behaviors through the course of development, from infancy to adulthood. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals,Inc. Dev Psychobiol 54: 643–663, 2012.