Unfamiliar face recognition follows a particularly protracted developmental trajectory and is more likely to be atypical in children with autism than those without autism. There is a paucity of research, however, examining the ability to recognize the same face across multiple naturally varying images. Here, we investigated within-person face recognition in children with and without autism. In Experiment 1, typically developing 6- and 7-year-olds, 8- and 9-year-olds, 10- and 11-year-olds, 12- to 14-year-olds, and adults were given 40 grayscale photographs of two distinct male identities (20 of each face taken at different ages, from different angles, and in different lighting conditions) and were asked to sort them by identity. Children mistook images of the same person as images of different people, subdividing each individual into many perceived identities. Younger children divided images into more perceived identities than adults and also made more misidentification errors (placing two different identities together in the same group) than older children and adults. In Experiment 2, we used the same procedure with 32 cognitively able children with autism. Autistic children reported a similar number of identities and made similar numbers of misidentification errors to a group of typical children of similar age and ability. Fine-grained analysis using matrices revealed marginal group differences in overall performance. We suggest that the immature performance in typical and autistic children could arise from problems extracting the perceptual commonalities from different images of the same person and building stable representations of facial identity.
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- face perception
- face recognition