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Abstract

During the first year of life, infants’ face recognition abilities are subject to ‘perceptual narrowing’, the end result of which is that observers lose the ability to distinguish previously discriminable faces (e.g. other-race faces) from one another. Perceptual narrowing has been reported for faces of different species and different races, in developing humans and primates. Though the phenomenon is highly robust and replicable, there have been few efforts to model the emergence of perceptual narrowing as a function of the accumulation of experience with faces during infancy. The goal of the current study is to examine how perceptual narrowing might manifest as statistical estimation in ‘face-space’, a geometric framework for describing face recognition that has been successfully applied to adult face perception. Here, I use a computer vision algorithm for Bayesian face recognition to study how the acquisition of experience in face-space and the presence of race categories affect performance for own and other-race faces. Perceptual narrowing follows from the establishment of distinct race categories, suggesting that the acquisition of category boundaries for race is a key computational mechanism in developing face expertise.