The Effects of Early Experience on Face Recognition: An Event-Related Potential Study of Institutionalized Children in Romania


  • The work reported in this article was supported by funds from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. We thank Gwen Gordon for assistance in data management; Don Guthrie for statistical consultation; Sebastian Koga for overseeing the project in Romania; Hermi Woodward and the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Early Experience and Brain Development for input regarding the conceptualization, design, and implementation of this project; the caregivers and children who participated in this project; the Bucharest Early Intervention Project staff for their tireless work on our behalf; and our many colleagues in Romania who facilitated our work, particularly Bogdan Simion and Alin Stanescu.

concerning this article should be addressed to Margaret C. Moulson, The MIT Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Room 46-4089, 77 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02139. Electronic mail may be sent to


Data are reported from 3 groups of children residing in Bucharest, Romania. Face recognition in currently institutionalized, previously institutionalized, and never-institutionalized children was assessed at 3 time points: preintervention (n = 121), 30 months of age (n = 99), and 42 months of age (n = 77). Children watched photographs of caregiver and stranger faces while event-related potentials were recorded. Results demonstrate that institutionalized children show pervasive cortical hypoarousal in response to faces and that foster care is somewhat effective in remediating this deficit by 42 months of age. All 3 groups of children distinguished between the familiar and unfamiliar faces. These results have the potential to inform an understanding of the role of early experience in the development of the neural systems that subserve face recognition.