The relative importance of heads, bodies, and movement to person recognition across development

Rachel A. Robbins*, Max Coltheart

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    12 Citations (Scopus)


    Children have been shown to be worse at face recognition than adults even into their early teens. However, there is debate about whether this is due to face-specific mechanisms or general perceptual and memory development. Here, we considered a slightly different option-that children use different cues to recognition. To test this, we showed 8-year-olds, 10-year-olds, and adults whole body, head only, and body only stimuli that were either moving or static. These were shown in two tasks, a match-to-sample task with unfamiliar people and a learning task, to test recognition of experimentally familiar people. On the match-to-sample task, children were worse overall, but the pattern of results was the same for each age group. Matching was best with all cues or head available, and there was no effect of movement. However, matching was generally slower with moving stimuli, and 8-year-olds, but not 10-year-olds, were slower than adults. In general, more cues were faster than heads or bodies alone, but 8-year-olds were surprisingly slow when still bodies were shown alone. On the learning task, again all age groups showed similar patterns, with better performance for all cues. Both 8- and 10-year-olds were more likely to say that they knew someone unfamiliar. Again, movement did not provide a clear advantage. Overall, this study suggests that any differences in face recognition between adults and children are not due to differences in cue use and that instead these results are consistent with general improvements in memory.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1-14
    Number of pages14
    JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2015


    • face perception
    • body perception
    • biological motion
    • visual development
    • familiar person recognition
    • unfamiliar person recognition


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