Face recognition skills peak after 30 years

Face recognition skills peak after 30 years

The surprising discovery was made by Laura T. Germine and Ken Nakayama of Harvard University and Bradley Duchaine of Dartmouth College.

While prior evidence had suggested that face recognition might be slow to mature, Germine says few scientists had suspected that it might continue building for so many years into adulthood, the Cognition journal reports.

"We all look at faces and practice face-watching all the time," says Germine, a doctoral student in psychology at Harvard, according to its statement. "It may be that the parts of the brain we use to recognise faces require this extended period of tuning in early adulthood to help us learn and remember a wide variety of different faces."
Germine, Duchaine and Nakayama used the web-based Cambridge Face Memory Test - to test the recognition of computer-generated faces among some 44,000 volunteers aged 10 to 70 years.

They found that skills at other mental tasks, such as remembering names, maxes out at age 23 to 24, consistent with previous research.But on a face-recognition task, skills rose sharply from age 10 to 20, then continued increasing more slowly throughout the 20s, reaching a peak of 83 percent correct responses from 30 to 34.

A follow-up experiment involving computer-generated children's faces found a similar result, with the best face recognition seen among individuals in their early 30s. After this, the skill in recognising faces declined slowly, with the ability of 65 year olds roughly matching that of 16 year olds.