Face recognition is crucial for social interaction and development, and undergoes a prolonged maturation until the teens. However, little is known about the maturation of the normal psychological or neural processes that support the development of face perception in children. The goal of this proposal is to use cutting-edge psychophysical and neuroscience methods to elucidate the development of psychological processes involved in face recognition, the underlying neural systems, and their link. Such a rigorous and convergent approach in elucidating normal development is crucial for understanding the many developmental disorders that involve deficits in visual or face processing such as Williams Syndrome, autism and congenital prosopagnosia. Recent psychophysical studies found that face recognition in adults involves multiple stages of processing, including visual categorization (face versus non face) and individual identification (e.g., George versus Bill). Imaging studies revealed that in adults, specific face selective regions in the visual cortex, such as the fusiform """"""""face area"""""""" (FFA) are also involved in the categorization and identification of faces. Our preliminary data indicate that the FFA is substantially smaller in children (7-11) compared to adults, correlating with their lower levels of face recognition memory. These data suggest a striking and prolonged maturation of face processing and its neural substrates. However, it is not known how this maturation relates to specific stages of face processing, and whether this maturation is specific to the FFA, or involves the visual cortex more generally. We hypothesize that development of face processing specifically involves maturation of the FFA. Therefore, we propose to examine the links between maturation of the FFA and face perception. We will determine: (1) which behavioral aspects of face processing mature after age 7, using psychophysics;(2) whether the maturation of the FFA occurs in tandem with (or lags) maturation of early and/or higher order visual cortex, using standard fMRI;(3) whether the (smaller) FFA in children is involved in face (or object) categorization and identification, using a combination of psychophysics and standard fMRI and (4) whether maturation of FFA involves increases in face selectivity and/or fine-scale structures within the FFA, using high resolution fMRI. We expect our results to address wide gaps in our understanding of normal visual development, add significant knowledge to theories of face perception and object representation, and provide an essential base for future research on developmental disorders and pediatric imaging in general.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Eye Institute (NEI)
Exploratory/Developmental Grants (R21)
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Central Visual Processing Study Section (CVP)
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Steinmetz, Michael A
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Stanford University
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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