Healthy aging impairs face discrimination ability

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

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
63 Downloads (Pure)


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: 20, 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 visual acuity were controlled, the effect of age on face discrimination sensitivity remained. Sensitivity to face features also deteriorated with age. Although 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 aging 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 aging is associated with a specific decline in the mechanisms that 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
  • humans
  • visual acuity
  • adult
  • form perception
  • pattern recognition, visual
  • face

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sensory Systems
  • Ophthalmology


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