Healthy ageing impairs face discrimination ability

Andrew J. Logan*, Gael E. Gordon, Gunter Loffler

*Corresponding author for this work

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Face images enable individual identities to be discriminated from one another. We aimed to quantify age-related changes in different aspects of face identity discrimination.

Face discrimination sensitivity was measured with a memory-free “odd-one-out” task. Five age groups (N=15) of healthy adults with normal vision were tested: 20s, 50-59, 60-69, 70-79 and 80-89. Sensitivity was measured for full-face images (all features visible), external features (head-shape, hairline), internal features (nose, mouth, eyes and eyebrows) and closed-contour shapes (control object).

Sensitivity to full-faces continuously declined by approximately 13% per decade, after 50 years of age. When age-related differences in VA were controlled, the effect of age on face discrimination sensitivity remained. Sensitivity to face features also deteriorated with age. While the effect for external features was similar to full-faces, the rate of decline was considerably steeper (approximately 3.7 times) for internal, relative to external, features. In contrast, there was no effect of age on sensitivity to shapes. All age groups demonstrated the same overall pattern of sensitivity to different types of face information.

Healthy ageing was associated with a continuous decline in sensitivity to both full-faces and face features, although encoding of internal features was disproportionately impaired. This age-related deficit was independent of differences in low-level vision. That sensitivity to shapes was unaffected by age suggests these results cannot be explained by general cognitive decline or lower-level visual deficits. Instead, healthy ageing is associated with a specific decline in the mechanisms which underlie face discrimination.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Vision
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2022


  • face perception
  • face discrimination
  • healthy ageing
  • psychophysics
  • face features
  • holistic processing


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