Concurrent development of facial identity and expression discrimination

Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

PLoS One


Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences


Facial identity and facial expression processing both appear to follow a protracted developmental trajectory, yet these trajectories have been studied independently and have not been directly compared. Here we investigated whether these processes develop at the same or different rates using matched identity and expression discrimination tasks. The Identity task begins with a target face that is a morph between two identities (Identity A/Identity B). After a brief delay, the target face is replaced by two choice faces: 100% Identity A and 100% Identity B. Children 5-12-years-old were asked to pick the choice face that is most similar to the target identity. The Expression task is matched in format and difficulty to the Identity task, except the targets are morphs between two expressions (Angry/Happy, or Disgust/Surprise). The same children were asked to pick the choice face with the expression that is most similar to the target expression. There were significant effects of age, with performance improving (becoming more accurate and faster) on both tasks with increasing age. Accuracy and reaction times were not significantly different across tasks and there was no significant Age x Task interaction. Thus, facial identity and facial expression discrimination appear to develop at a similar rate, with comparable improvement on both tasks from age five to twelve. Because our tasks are so closely matched in format and difficulty, they may prove useful for testing face identity and face expression processing in special populations, such as autism or prosopagnosia, where one of these abilities might be impaired.



Original Citation

Dalrymple, K. A., Visconti Di Oleggio Castello, M., Elison, J. T., & Gobbini, M. I. (2017). Concurrent development of facial identity and expression discrimination. PloS one, 12(6), [e0179588]. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0179458