Children’s ability to recognize their parent’s face improves with age

Matthews, C. M.; Mondloch, C. J.; Lewis-Dennis, F. and Laurence, S. (2022). Children’s ability to recognize their parent’s face improves with age. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology (In Press).

Abstract

Adults are experts at recognizing familiar faces across images that incorporate natural within-person variability in appearance (i.e., ambient images). Little is known about children’s ability to do so. In the current study, we investigated whether 4- to 7-year-olds (n = 56) could recognize images of their own parent—a person with whom children have had abundant exposure in a variety of different contexts. Children were asked to identify images of their parent that were intermixed with images of other people. We included images of each parent taken both before and after their child was born to manipulate how close the images were to the child’s own experience. When viewing before-birth images, 4- and 5-year-olds were less sensitive to identity than were older children; sensitivity did not differ when viewing images taken after the child was born. These findings suggest that with even the most familiar face, 4- and 5-year-olds have difficulty recognizing instances that go beyond their direct experience. We discuss two factors that may contribute to the prolonged development of familiar face recognition.

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