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Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Psychology

Year Degree Awarded

2016

Month Degree Awarded

September

First Advisor

Lisa S. Scott

Subject Categories

Developmental Psychology

Abstract

Faces are universally important for a variety of reasons, ranging from identifying individuals to conveying social information. During the first year of life, infants’ experience with commonly encountered face groups shapes how infants perceive familiar and unfamiliar faces. Between 6 and 9 months of age, infants become worse at differentiating among individual faces from unfamiliar face groups (e.g., other-species faces), a process known as “perceptual narrowing”. Labeling faces from a previously unfamiliar face group has been found to promote individual-level differentiation, as well as expert neural processing for the face group. However, it is currently unclear what influences individual-level labels have on face perception at the neural level during the label learning process. The current study investigated effects of individual labels on neural responses to a previously unfamiliar face group by providing in-lab training experience and recording two types of neural responses – event-related potentials and steady state visual evoked potentials – during and immediately after label-face learning. Results indicate that 6- and 9-month-old infants use labels to learn about unfamiliar faces in different ways, such that labels impact face processing earlier in the learning period and across more stages of processing in older versus younger infants. Additionally, at 9 months, infants still differentiate among exemplars within an unfamiliar face group, and brief individuating experience localizes processing over face-related brain regions. The results of this study contribute to our understanding of what infants gain from a single labeling experience and how neural responses related to face processing change with learning and across the first year of life.

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