Learning to recognize younger faces at an older age



Processing of horizontal face cues has been shown to be an important element in face recognition of adults aged up to 30 years. In contrast, horizontally aligned facial features do not appear to contribute to older adults’ (60–75 years) recognition in a similar way. To this end, we investigated potential learning effects on the ability to recognize faces based on horizontal features. Previous research suggests face recognition based on all face information experiences an accelerated decline after the age of 70. However, recognition based only on horizontal face information has not yet been studied in old age (75+ years of age). Thus, we investigated whether older adults (aged up to as well as starting at 75 years) can learn to recognize faces based on horizontal face cues alone.


One younger and two older adult groups (20–30, 60–75, and 75+ years) were familiarized with a high and a low amount of previously unfamiliar faces—some containing all face cues and others containing only horizontal face cues (reduced information). Subsequently, all groups received a recognition test.


Repeated learning increased natural face recognition for all three age groups when all face cues were available. However, increases in face recognition were only observed for younger adults when horizontal face cued were only available.


The importance of horizontally aligned spatial frequencies for recognizing human faces is lessened before the age of 60 (and plateaus thereon), whereas recognition of stimuli containing all face cues is still capable of improvement.

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Correspondence to Sven Obermeyer.

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All procedures performed in this study involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration. Procedures performed in this study did not invovle animals.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Obermeyer, S., Kubik, V., Schaich, A. et al. Learning to recognize younger faces at an older age. Aging Clin Exp Res 29, 191–196 (2017) doi:10.1007/s40520-016-0537-2

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  • Face recognition
  • Aging
  • Development
  • Memory