Pubertal development shapes perception of complex facial expressions

Natalie V. Motta-Mena, K. Suzanne Scherf

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25 Scopus citations


We previously hypothesized that pubertal development shapes the emergence of new components of face processing (Scherf et al., 2012; Garcia & Scherf, 2015). Here, we evaluate this hypothesis by investigating emerging perceptual sensitivity to complex versus basic facial expressions across pubertal development. We tested pre-pubescent children (6–8 years), age- and sex-matched adolescents in early and later stages of pubertal development (11–14 years), and sexually mature adults (18–24 years). Using a perceptual staircase procedure, participants made visual discriminations of both socially complex expressions (sexual interest, contempt) that are arguably relevant to emerging peer-oriented relationships of adolescence, and basic (happy, anger) expressions that are important even in early infancy. Only sensitivity to detect complex expressions improved as a function of pubertal development. The ability to perceive these expressions is adult-like by late puberty when adolescents become sexually mature. This pattern of results provides the first evidence that pubertal development specifically influences emerging affective components of face perception in adolescence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere12451
JournalDevelopmental Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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