Natural Experience Modulates the Processing of Older Adult Faces in Young Adults and 3-Year-Old Children

Proietti, Valentina; Pisacane, Antonella; Macchi Cassia, Viola
February 2013
PLoS ONE;Feb2013, Vol. 8 Issue 2, p1
Academic Journal
Just like other face dimensions, age influences the way faces are processed by adults as well as by children. However, it remains unclear under what conditions exactly such influence occurs at both ages, in that there is some mixed evidence concerning the presence of a systematic processing advantage for peer faces (own-age bias) across the lifespan. Inconsistency in the results may stem from the fact that the individual’s face representation adapts to represent the most predominant age traits of the faces present in the environment, which is reflective of the individual’s specific living conditions and social experience. In the current study we investigated the processing of younger and older adult faces in two groups of adults (Experiment 1) and two groups of 3-year-old children (Experiment 2) who accumulated different amounts of experience with elderly people. Contact with elderly adults influenced the extent to which both adult and child participants showed greater discrimination abilities and stronger sensitivity to configural/featural cues in younger versus older adult faces, as measured by the size of the inversion effect. In children, the size of the inversion effect for older adult faces was also significantly correlated with the amount of contact with elderly people. These results show that, in both adults and children, visual experience with older adult faces can tune perceptual processing strategies to the point of abolishing the discrimination disadvantage that participants typically manifest for those faces in comparison to younger adult faces.


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