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Limitations in 4-Year-Old Children’s Sensitivity to the Spacing Among Facial Features


  • This research was funded by an NSERC Discovery Grant to Catherine J. Mondloch. The original adult faces were taken from the MacBrain Face Stimulus Set. Development of the MacBrain Face Stimulus Set was overseen by Nim Tottenham and supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Early Experience and Brain Development. Please contact Nim Tottenham at for more information concerning the stimulus set.

concerning this article should be addressed to Catherine J. Mondloch, Department of Psychology, Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada L2S 3A1. Electronic mail may be sent to


Four-year-olds’ sensitivity to differences among faces in the spacing of features was tested under 4 task conditions: judging distinctiveness when the external contour was visible and when it was occluded, simultaneous match-to-sample, and recognizing the face of a friend. In each task, the foil differed only in the spacing of features, and spacing alterations were within normal limits. Children performed at chance levels in all but 1 task—match-to-sample, and in that task, only 10 of 18 children were correct on more than 50% of the trials. Sensitivity to the spacing of facial features in identity and distinctiveness tasks is very weak at 4 years of age—at least when the changes do not exceed ±2.5 SD of normal variability.