From Caregivers to Peers: Puberty Shapes Human Face Perception

Giorgia Picci, K. Suzanne Scherf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


Puberty prepares mammals to sexually reproduce during adolescence. It is also hypothesized to invoke a social metamorphosis that prepares adolescents to take on adult social roles. We provide the first evidence to support this hypothesis in humans and show that pubertal development retunes the face-processing system from a caregiver bias to a peer bias. Prior to puberty, children exhibit enhanced recognition for adult female faces. With puberty, superior recognition emerges for peer faces that match one’s pubertal status. As puberty progresses, so does the peer recognition bias. Adolescents become better at recognizing faces with a pubertal status similar to their own. These findings reconceptualize the adolescent “dip” in face recognition by showing that it is a recalibration of the face-processing system away from caregivers toward peers. Thus, in addition to preparing the physical body for sexual reproduction, puberty shapes the perceptual system for processing the social world in new ways.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1461-1473
Number of pages13
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Psychology(all)


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