The non-linear development of the right hemispheric specialization for human face perception

Neuropsychologia. 2019 Mar 18:126:10-19. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2017.06.029. Epub 2017 Jun 24.


The developmental origins of human adults' right hemispheric specialization for face perception remain unclear. On the one hand, infant studies have shown a right hemispheric advantage for face perception. On the other hand, it has been proposed that the adult right hemispheric lateralization for face perception slowly emerges during childhood due to reading acquisition, which increases left lateralized posterior responses to competing written material (e.g., visual letters and words). Since methodological approaches used in infant and children typically differ when their face capabilities are explored, resolving this issue has been difficult. Here we tested 5-year-old preschoolers varying in their level of visual letter knowledge with the same fast periodic visual stimulation (FPVS) paradigm leading to strongly right lateralized electrophysiological occipito-temporal face-selective responses in 4- to 6-month-old infants (de Heering and Rossion, 2015). Children's face-selective response was quantitatively larger and differed in scalp topography from infants', but did not differ across hemispheres. There was a small positive correlation between preschoolers' letter knowledge and a non-normalized index of right hemispheric specialization for faces. These observations show that previous discrepant results in the literature reflect a genuine nonlinear development of the neural processes underlying face perception and are not merely due to methodological differences across age groups. We discuss several factors that could contribute to the adult right hemispheric lateralization for faces, such as myelination of the corpus callosum and reading acquisition. Our findings point to the value of FPVS coupled with electroencephalography to assess specialized face perception processes throughout development with the same methodology.

Keywords: Development; EEG; Face perception; Right lateralization.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cerebral Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Cerebral Cortex / growth & development
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Child Development / physiology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Electroencephalography
  • Facial Recognition / physiology*
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Social Perception