Ensemble coding of faces occurs in children and develops dissociably from coding of individual face identities

Gillian Rhodes, Markus Neumann, Louise Ewing, Samantha Bank, Ainsley Read, Laura M. Engfors, Rachel Emiechel, Romina Palermo

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18 Citations (Scopus)
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Ensemble coding allows adults to access useful information about average properties of groups, sometimes even in the absence of detailed representations of individual group members. This form of coding may emerge early in development with initial reports of ensemble coding for simple properties (size, numerosity) in young children and even infants. Here we demonstrate that ensemble coding of faces, which provides information about average properties of social groups, is already present in 6-8 year old children. This access to average information increases with age from 6 to 18 years and its development is dissociable from age-related improvements in the coding of individual face identities. This dissociation provides the first direct evidence that distinct processes underlie ensemble and individual coding of face identity, evidence that has been lacking from adult studies. More generally, our results add to the emerging evidence for impressively mature sensitivity to statistical properties of the visual environment in children. They indicate that children have access to gist information about social groups that may facilitate adaptive social behaviour.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12540
JournalDevelopmental Science
Issue number2
Early online date21 May 2017
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2018


  • face processing
  • ensemble coding
  • set averaging
  • development

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