ON THE WAY TO BECOMING AN ADULT: THE BEHAVIORAL BASIS OF FACE PROCESSING AS IT CHANGES WITH ADOLESCENT ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS

Restricted (Penn State Only)
Author:
Picci, Giorgia
Graduate Program:
Psychology
Degree:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Dissertation
Date of Defense:
May 30, 2018
Committee Members:
  • Kathryn Suzanne Scherf, Dissertation Advisor
  • Kathryn Suzanne Scherf, Committee Chair
  • Koraly Elisa Perez-Edgar, Committee Member
  • Jenae Marie Neiderhiser, Committee Member
  • Peter Cm Molenaar, Outside Member
  • Eva Lefkowitz, Special Member
  • Jenae Marie Neiderhiser, Committee Chair
  • Glenn Roisman, Special Member
Keywords:
  • Adolescents
  • Romantic Relationships
  • Face Processing
  • Peers
  • Social Development
  • Adolescence
Abstract:
Exploring romantic relationships is a defining milestone of adolescence. Importantly, the capacity to develop interpersonal intimacy in these kinds of peer relationships during adolescence provides the foundation for healthy or unhealthy romantic and sexual partnerships in adulthood. In order to experiment with and engage in these romantic relationships, adolescents must acquire novel social behaviors. Moreover, pubertal development is thought to instigate dating and sexual interest and behavior during adolescence. Here, the face-processing system was used to understand how individual differences in romantic behavior during adolescence relate to emergent face-processing behaviors hypothesized to be relevant to romantic contexts. Thus, the present study examined how puberty, as well as interest and engagement in romantic behavior during adolescence potentially alter the emergence of novel face-processing behaviors. Specifically, 91 adolescents 15-17-years-old (M age = 16.27, SD = 0.77; 50 females) completed a battery of face-processing tasks hypothesized to emerge in the context of learning how to navigate these relationships (i.e., peer face recognition, complex expression detection, peer attractiveness detection). Findings suggested that pubertal status and romantic behavior relate to some, but not all, aspects of face perception that were tested. Namely, pubertal status and romantic behavior both uniquely predicted the ability to recognize peer, and not parent, faces. These findings suggest that as adolescents undergo pubertal development and learn to navigate developmentally unprecedented social contexts, like romantic relationships, important changes occur in the visuoperceptual system to support these behaviors. Therefore, the confluence of pubertal development and adolescent exploration of romantic contexts are likely key components in shaping how adolescents learn to process the social world in novel ways, in preparation for adult social roles. In addition to preparing the body for reproduction, puberty facilitates a re-organization of social information processing that is organized around peers, and relates to functioning within romantic contexts.