Fitting the child's mind to the world: adaptive norm-based coding of facial identity in 8-year-olds


Address for correspondence: Daphne Maurer, Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour, McMaster University, 1280 Main Street West, Hamilton ON, Canada L8S 4K1; e-mail:


In adults, facial identity is coded by opponent processes relative to an average face or norm, as evidenced by the face identity aftereffect: adapting to a face biases perception towards the opposite identity, so that a previously neutral face (e.g. the average) resembles the identity of the computationally opposite face. We investigated whether children as young as 8 use adaptive norm-based coding to represent faces, a question of interest because 8-year-olds are less accurate than adults at recognizing faces and do not show the adult neural markers of face expertise. We found comparable face identity aftereffects in 8-year-olds and adults: perception of identity in both groups shifted in the direction predicted by norm-based coding. This finding suggests that, by 8 years of age, the adaptive computational mechanisms used to code facial identity are like those of adults and hence that children's immaturities in face processing arise from another source.