The Link Between Age and a Familiar Face0

Individual ability to recognize and remember the faces of those we meet is best between the ages of 30 and 34, some 10 years after many other mental skills are sharpest. This comes from the work of Laura T. Germine and Ken Nakayama of Harvard University and Bradley Duchaine of Dartmouth College. They will present their research in the journal Cognition.

According to Germine, a Ph.D. student in psychology at Harvard, the late-blooming nature of face recognition may simply be a case of practice making perfect. “We all look at faces, and practice face-watching, all the time. It may be that the parts of the brain we use to recognize faces require this extended period of tuning in early adulthood to help us learn and remember a wide variety of different faces.”

The researchers used Test My Brain, a website dedicated to internet-based experiments and science education, with 44,000 volunteers between the ages of 10 and 70 to test recognition of computer-generated faces.  Although most mental skills (like remembering names, for example) peak between age 23 and 24, face-recognition ability is different. In the study, this skill rose sharply from age 10 to 20, then steadily improved until reaching its pinnacle between ages 30 and 34 (83% correct responses amongst the volunteers in this age group).

A separate experiment using computer-generated children’s faces reached the same conclusion.  According to Germine: “Research on cognition has tended to focus on development, to age 20, and aging, after age 55. Our work shows that the 35 years in between, previously thought to be fairly static, may in fact be more dynamic than many scientists had expected.” [audio:|titles=I Will Let You Down]

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