Developmental Science

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Volume 21 Issue 2 (March 2018), Pages

Ensemble coding of faces occurs in children and develops dissociably from coding of individual faces

Abstract

Ensemble coding allows adults to access useful information about average properties of groups, sometimes even in the absence of detailed representations of individual group members. This form of coding may emerge early in development with initial reports of ensemble coding for simple properties (size, numerosity) in young children and even infants. Here we demonstrate that ensemble coding of faces, which provides information about average properties of social groups, is already present in 6–8‐year‐old children. This access to average information increases with age from 6 to 18 years and its development is dissociable from age‐related improvements in the coding of individual face identities. This dissociation provides the first direct evidence that distinct processes underlie ensemble and individual coding of face identity, evidence that has been lacking from adult studies. More generally, our results add to the emerging evidence for impressively mature sensitivity to statistical properties of the visual environment in children. They indicate that children have access to gist information about social groups that may facilitate adaptive social behaviour.

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