Expertise and the Own-Age Bias in Face Recognition

Harrison, Virginia (2011). Expertise and the Own-Age Bias in Face Recognition. PhD thesis University of Sussex.



Previous research has shown that we recognise faces similar in age to ourselves better than older or younger faces (e.g. Anastasi & Rhodes, 2006). The primary aim of this thesis was to investigate this phenomenon in young adults and children to gain further insight into the underlying perceptual, cognitive and/or social mechanisms involved in this apparent “own-age bias” (OAB) in face recognition.

Chapter one confirmed that an OAB was present in both young adults and children, and the remaining chapters sought to address why this pattern may exist by drawing on the plethora of research into why a similar, potentially analogous bias occurs: the own-race bias (ORB). The ORB is the phenomenon that we are more accurate at recognising faces of our own race than those belonging to a different, less familiar race (see Meissner & Brigham, 2001 for review).

Perhaps the best known explanation of the ORB is the Contact Hypothesis. This suggests that the own-race memory advantage is due to the fact that people tend to have more experience with faces from their own race and, as a direct result, develop greater expertise at recognising them (e.g. Chiroro & Valentine, 1995). The second chapter sought to investigate whether a similar explanation could be applied to the OAB, and found supporting evidence for this claim.

The remaining studies examined what it is about contact with an age group that results in the superior recognition for faces of that age. By investigating perceptual expertise, social-categorisation and motivational explanations of the OAB, this thesis concluded that both quantity and quality of contact play an important role in the development of this bias. The findings of this thesis seem to be most consistent with a perceptual expertise account of the own-age bias in face recognition. However, it also seems likely that motivation to attend to faces (particularly with the goal of individuation) is likely to be a driving factor of this bias.

Viewing alternatives

Download history

Item Actions