Puberty matters: A look at the development of face recognition biases in children and adolescents

Open Access
Picci, Giorgia
Graduate Program:
Master of Science
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
October 31, 2014
Committee Members:
  • Kathyrn Suzanne Scherf, Thesis Advisor
  • Sheri A. Berenbaum, Thesis Advisor
  • Martha Ellen Wadsworth, Thesis Advisor
  • Face recognition
  • biases
  • own age bias
  • own gender bias
  • adolescence
  • puberty
  • developmental tasks
It is impossible to encode every face that we encounter with sufficient detail for later recognition. As a result, an individuals’ perceptual system becomes tuned over the course of their lifetime to recognize particular faces. For example, adults exhibit biases such that they show superior recognition abilities for faces belonging to particular categories (e.g. race, species, age, gender) of faces. The own-age bias (OAB) is one such bias and is reflected in better recognition of similar aged faces. The literature investigating this phenomenon in children and adolescents is sparse and inconclusive at best. The present study examined the independent contributions of age and puberty to the formation of the OAB as children, adolescents, and adults recognize male and female faces. In so doing, this study specifically tested predictions from a novel theory that emphasizes the role of age-appropriate social developmental tasks in shaping face processing behavior, including the OAB, particularly during adolescence and pubertal development (Scherf, Behrmann, & Dahl, 2012; Scherf & Scott, 2012). Consistent with the theory, prepubescent children (ages 6-8 yrs) did not exhibit an OAB, but instead showed a recognition bias in favor of adult female faces. Adolescents in the early stages of pubertal development did not exhibit any consistent biases in recognition behavior, indicating a potential disruption in the pattern of biases with the onset of gonadarche. Age-matched adolescents in later stages of gonadarche evinced an own-sex bias regardless of the age of the faces they were observing, which was similar to the adult pattern of bias. This study represents a novel contribution to understanding the impact of pubertal development in the formation of biases in face recognition behavior during the course of human adolescence.