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Maturation of Mechanisms Supporting Face Recognition
Adults interpret the visual world in remarkably consistent ways, despite dramatic differences in experiences. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh have discovered that adolescence is an important time for the development of the visual system, in that there is growing pressure to learn to see the world in terms of bounded and continuous objects and to recognize them very quickly. NSF-funded researchers Drs. Marlene Behrmann and Suzanne Scherf (working as part of the Temporal Dynamics Learning Center), along with their colleagues, presented visual displays to children, adolescents and adults in which many different bits and pieces of the image had to be integrated to yield perception of a whole object. While adults are very good at perceiving the whole image, children are limited in how well they can integrate the information. Adolescence is the critical time when this ability begins to mature. Furthermore, this ability to integrate discontinuous elements of visual information is critical for the perception and recognition of faces. These researchers also investigated developmental changes in the way the brain processes faces and here, again, it appears that adolescence is an important time when face-related brain regions begin to mature (see attached figure). These studies show, for the first time, that adolescence is a critical time for the development of psychological and neural abilities that are essential for interpreting the visual world.