Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Behavioral studies suggest that children under age 10 process faces using a piecemeal strategy based on individual distinctive facial features, whereas older children use a configural strategy based on the spatial relations among the face's features. The purpose of this study was to determine whether activation of the fusiform gyrus, which is involved in face processing in adults, is greater during face processing in older children (12–14 years) than in younger children (8– 10 years). Functional MRI scans were obtained while children viewed faces and houses. A developmental change was observed: Older children, but not younger children, showed significantly more activation in bilateral fusiform gyri for faces than for houses. Activation in the fusiform gyrus correlated significantly with age and with a behavioral measure of configural face processing. Regions believed to be involved in processing basic facial features were activated in both younger and older children. Some evidence was also observed for greater activation for houses versus faces for the older children than for the younger children, suggesting that processing of these two stimulus types becomes more differentiated as children age. The current results provide biological insight into changes in visual processing of faces that occur with normal development.