The face behind the mask: a developmental study


Address for correspondence: Nim Tottenham, 1300 York Avenue, Box No. 140, New York, NY 10021, USA; e-mail:


Faces are a rich and available source of social information, and the representation for faces is robust in adults (i.e. the face detection effect; Purcell & Stewart, 1988). The current study compared the developmental trajectory of the robustness of face perception against the trajectory for a non-face object. Participants (5–35 years old) were presented with rapid (17 and 33 millisecond) presentations of face and house stimuli and were instructed to identify the object category of the stimulus (face or house). There was an interaction between object type and age such that the developmental slope for face identification was steeper than the slope for house identification for the 17-millisecond presentation. These data show that faces are processed in a different way than a non-face object during the period from middle childhood through adolescence and adulthood, and this differential processing may involve the massive amount of exposure we have to faces.