Configural face processing develops more slowly than featural face processing.
Expertise in face processing takes many years to develop. To determine the contribution of different face-processing skills to this slow development, we altered a single face so as to create sets of faces designed to measure featural, configural, and contour processing. Within each set, faces differed only in the shape of the eyes and mouth (featural set), only in the spacing of the eyes and mouth (spacing set), or only in the shape of the external contour (contour set). We presented adults, and children aged 6, 8, and 10 years, with pairs of upright and inverted faces and instructed them to indicate whether the two faces were the same or different. Adults showed a larger inversion effect for the spacing set than for the featural and external contour sets, confirming that the spacing set taps configural processing. On the spacing set, all groups of children made more errors than adults. In contrast, on the external contour and featural sets, children at all ages were almost as accurate as adults, with no significant difference beginning at age 6 on the external contour set and beginning at age 10 on the featural set. Overall, the results indicate that adult expertise in configural processing is especially slow to develop.