Exploring the perceptual spaces of faces, cars and birds in children and adults


James W. Tanaka, Department of Psychology, University of Victoria, Cornett Building A189, 3800 Finnerty Road (Ring Rd), Victoria BC, V8P 5C2, Canada;
e-mail: jtanaka@uvic.ca


While much developmental research has focused on the strategies that children employ to recognize faces, less is known about the principles governing the organization of face exemplars in perceptual memory. In this study, we tested a novel, child-friendly paradigm for investigating the organization of face, bird and car exemplars. Children ages 3–4, 5–6, 7–8, 9–10, 11–12 and adults were presented with 50/50 morphs of typical and atypical face, bird and car parent images. Participants were asked to judge whether the 50/50 morph more strongly resembled the typical or the atypical parent image. Young and older children and adults showed a systematic bias to the atypical faces and birds, but no bias toward the atypical cars. Collectively, these findings argue that by the age of 3, children encode and organize faces, birds and cars in a perceptual space that is strikingly similar to that of adults. Category organization for both children and adults follows Krumhansl’s (1978) distance-density principle in which the similarity between two exemplars is jointly determined by their physical appearance and the density of neighboring exemplars in the perceptual space.