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Neuroimage. 2013 Apr 1;69:11-20. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2012.11.060. Epub 2012 Dec 8.

Differential face-network adaptation in children, adolescents and adults.

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Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3UD, UK.


Faces are complex social stimuli, which can be processed both at the categorical and the individual level. Behavioral studies have shown that children take more than a decade of exposure and training to become proficient at processing faces at the individual level. The neurodevelopmental trajectories for different aspects of face-processing are still poorly understood. In this study, we used an fMR-adaptation design to investigate differential processing of three face aspects (identity, expression and gaze) in children, adolescents and adults. We found that, while all three tasks showed some overlap in activation patterns, there was a significant age effect in the occipital and temporal lobes and the inferior frontal gyrus. More importantly, the degree of adaptation differed across the three age groups in the inferior occipital gyrus, a core face processing area that has been shown in previous studies to be both integral and necessary for individual-level face processing. In the younger children, adaptation in this region seemed to suggest the use of a predominantly featural processing strategy, whereas adaptation effects in the adults exhibited a more strategic pattern that depended on the task. Interestingly, our sample of adolescents did not exhibit any differential adaptation effects; possibly reflecting increased heterogeneity in processing strategies in this age group. Our results support the notion that, in line with improving behavioral face-processing abilities, core face-responsive regions develop throughout the first two decades of life.

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