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Face Processing in Infancy: Developmental Changes in the Use of Different Kinds of Relational Information


  • This research was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation (BCS 0224240) and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (R01-HD042451). We thank the infants and the parents who participated in this study.

concerning this article should be addressed to Ramesh S. Bhatt, Psychology Department, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY 40506-0044. Electronic mail may be sent to


Adults use both first-order, or categorical, relations among features (e.g., the nose is above the mouth), and second-order, or fine spatial relations (e.g., the space between eyes), to process faces. Adults' expertise in face processing is thought to be based on the use of second-order relations. In the current study, 5-month-olds detected second-order changes, but 3-month-olds failed to detect second-order changes induced by 2 different manipulations. Three-month-olds did detect first-order changes, however. Also, inversion affected 5-month-olds' processing of second-order but not first-order information. These results suggest that, although sensitivity to first-order relations is available by 3 months or earlier, sensitivity to second-order information may not develop until sometime between 3 and 5 months of age.