On the typical and atypical development of face processing and recognition during the first three months of life and in a population of school-aged children born prematurely
Face stimuli challenge the infant's immature visual processing system's capacity to differentiate stimuli that differ in subtle ways. Experiments I to 4 investigated infants' preference for the human face between birth and 3 months of age when contrasted with four control stimuli. A visual preference technique was used because it does not call upon the participant's ability to speak. A spontaneous preference for a photographic representation of the human face was observed at birth for three out of four conditions. At 3 months of age, a preference for the human face was observed in two conditions. However, at I month of age, no preferences were observed. Findings did not support the view that the selectivity of the infant's responses to faces increases with exposure to faces and narrowing of the perceptual window (Nelson, 2001). Experiment 5 examined infants' ability to discriminate specific exemplars of the human face category, namely the mother's face, between I and 9 months of age. A preference for the mother's face was observed at I month. A tendency to prefer the stranger's face was observed at 3 months. No preference was observed at 6 and 9 months, thus suggesting that the visual preference procedure is not suitable for measuring recognition at these ages. Premature birth is associated with brain injury, which can lead to visual and intellectual deficits. Experiment 6 investigated general intelligence as well as face processing in school-aged children born prematurely and at term. Results indicated that premature children displayed levels within the normal range of intelligence. Furthermore, no long-term visual deficits were observed as performance levels for the discrimination of facial emotions were comparable between groups. Only premature children displayed an inversion effect, thereby demonstrating an adult-like face processing system.