Perceptual specialization and configural face processing in infancy

Nicole Zieber, Ashley Kangas, Alyson Hock, Angela Hayden, Rebecca Collins, Henrietta Bada, Jane E. Joseph, Ramesh S. Bhatt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Adults' face processing expertise includes sensitivity to second-order configural information (spatial relations among features such as distance between eyes). Prior research indicates that infants process this information in female faces. In the current experiments, 9-month-olds discriminated spacing changes in upright human male and monkey faces but not in inverted faces. However, they failed to process matching changes in upright house stimuli. A similar pattern of performance was exhibited by 5-month-olds. Thus, 5- and 9-month-olds exhibited specialization by processing configural information in upright primate faces but not in houses or inverted faces. This finding suggests that, even early in life, infants treat faces in a special manner by responding to changes in configural information more readily in faces than in non-face stimuli. However, previously reported differences in infants' processing of human versus monkey faces at 9 months of age (but not at younger ages), which have been associated with perceptual narrowing, were not evident in the current study. Thus, perceptual narrowing is not absolute in the sense of loss of the ability to process information from other species' faces at older ages.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)625-639
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Nov 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by National Institutes of Health grants ( HD042451 and HD052724 ) and by a National Science Foundation grant ( BCS-1121096 ). We thank the infants and parents who participated in this study.


  • Configural processing
  • Face perception
  • Face specialization
  • Infancy
  • Perceptual narrowing
  • Second-order spatial relations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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