The expertise of adults in face perception is facilitated by their ability to rapidly detect that a stimulus is a face. In two experiments, we examined the role of early visual input in the development of face detection by testing patients who had been treated as infants for bilateral congenital cataract. Experiment 1 indicated that, at age 9 to 20, patients' accuracy and response times on a Mooney face detection task were normal. Experiment 2 revealed that the neural mechanisms underlying face detection in a similar group of adult patients are abnormal: the amplitude of both the P100 and N170 event-related potential were larger in patients than in visually normal controls, and the extent of augmentation was related to the duration of deprivation. Thus, early visual experience is necessary for the establishment of normal neural networks for face detection; abnormalities at these early processing stages may contribute to the deficits we previously reported in configural face processing for this patient cohort.