Open Access
Von Der Heide, Rebecca Jane
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
December 16, 2010
Committee Members:
  • Michael Wenger, Committee Chair
  • Rick Gilmore, Committee Chair
  • Reginald Adams, Committee Member
  • Peter Molenaar, Committee Member
  • face perception
  • development
  • composite face task
  • inversion task
  • general recognition theory
The question of whether there are developmental changes in the ability to encode face information is the subject of ongoing debate. Two popular hypotheses in the developmental face perception literature arrive at competing conclusions with regard to this question. One line of work in the developmental face perception literature suggests faces are encoded in terms of two independent sources information (a) information about the spatial configuration of the features (b) information about the individual features. This line of work has consistently reported evidence of developmental changes interpreted as differences in encoding these two independent sources of information (Carey & Diamond, 1977; Carey, 1981; Diamond & Carey, 1986). A second line of work in the developmental face perception literature argues that faces are encoded holistically as unitary, perceptual wholes and not in terms of two independent sources of information. This line of work has consistently reported evidence that children and adults both appear to process face information holistically and reports no evidence of developmental changes in encoding (Carey & Diamond, 1994; Cassia et al., 2009; Mondloch et al., 2007; Pellicano & Rhodes, 2003; Pellicano et al., 2006; Tanaka et al., 1998). The purpose of the present study was to test these two competing hypotheses using the theoretical constructs and measures from general recognition theory (Ashby & Townsend, 1986), a multidimensional generalization of uni-dimensional signal detection analyses. Participants (ages 6-22) completed two within-sub jects face perception tasks: (a) a composite face task (b) an inversion face task. The pattern of results from both experiments suggested children and adults encoded face information in a qualitatively similar manner. More specifically, both adults and children showed evidence of encoding the dimensions of composite, upright and inverted faces independently rather than holistically at the level of an individual stimulus. There was also evidence of age-related quantitative increases in sensitivity (d') and decreases in false alarm rates for participants in both face perception tasks. These results are interpreted with respect to developmental changes in encoding face information and the maturation of more general cognitive abilities such as selective attention and response inhibition.