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J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2009 May;64(3):328-34. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbp008. Epub 2009 Mar 2.

Reduced ability to detect facial configuration in middle-aged and elderly individuals: associations with spatiotemporal visual processing.

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  • 1Visual Psychophysiology Laboratory, McLean Hospital, Belmont, Massachusetts, USA.


Visual sensitivity decreases with age, and this presumably has an impact on face recognition. However, the relationship between aging in basic visual processing and in the sensory and cognitive mechanisms mediating face recognition is not well understood. Face detection, a foundational step in recognizing faces, relies primarily on sensory information. This study measured the ability to detect facial configuration and contrast detection in young (<40 years), middle-aged (40-59 years), and elderly adults (>59 years). Performance on both face detection and contrast detection was moderately degraded in the middle-aged group compared with the young group and was further degraded in elderly adults. Face detection was correlated strongly with contrast sensitivities, but only weakly with verbal IQ. The results suggest that face detection ability begins to reduce in early aging, and is associated with spatiotemporal visual processing.

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