Prevalence of face recognition deficits in middle childhood
Approximately 2-2.5% of the adult population is believed to show severe difficulties with face recognition, in the absence of any neurological injury – a condition known as developmental prosopagnosia (DP). However, to date no research has attempted to estimate the prevalence of face recognition deficits in children, possibly because there are very few child-friendly, well-validated tests of face recognition. In the current study, we examined face and object recognition in a group of primary school children (aged 5-11 years), to establish whether our tests were suitable for children; and to provide an estimate of face recognition difficulties in children. In Experiment 1 (n = 184), children completed a pre-existing test of child face memory, the CFMT-K, and a bicycle test with the same format. In Experiment 2 (n = 413), children completed three-alternative forced choice matching tasks with faces and bicycles. All tests showed good psychometric properties. The face and bicycle tests were well-matched for difficulty and showed a similar developmental trajectory. Neither the memory nor matching tests were suitable to detect impairments in the youngest groups of children, but both tests appear suitable to screen for face recognition problems in middle childhood. In the current sample, 1.2-5.2% of children showed difficulties with face recognition; 1.2-4% showed face-specific difficulties – that is, poor face recognition with typical object recognition abilities. This is somewhat higher than previous adult estimates: it is possible that face matching tests overestimate the prevalence of face recognition difficulties in children; alternatively, some children may “outgrow” face recognition difficulties.