Ontario Institute of Child Studies in Education (OISE) professor Kang Lee has been awarded a grant of $1.84 million from the National Institutes of Health for studies into the way infants process and recognize faces. The five-year project will study means of teaching children aged six months to fourteen years how to extract facial characteristics including age, race, and gender.
Lee theorizes that at three months infants can recognize many different faces but by nine months the rate of improved facial recognition slows. “The less diverse the environment, the less faces the child will be able to recall,” says Lee.
Lee’s study will introduce children to new faces with daily 10-15 minute videos. His team will then measure whether subjects are able to process more faces by measuring a child’s level of interest ocular movements. This is a development from past research in this field, which predominantly relied on static photographs to provide this learning.
The early stage of the study has yielded promising results. After recently testing his hypothesis with a series of nine month old non-Chinese infants, Lee found that after four weeks of video clips those tested were able to recognize Chinese faces.
Lee’s research is aimed at helping children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), a neurological developmental disability that creates difficulties with communication and social interaction and a propensity for atypical patterns of activities, interests, and behaviors. As an important source for social stimuli, developing a normative standard for the development of facial recognition and processing could detect Autism in its early stages. Lee believes his work may even provide insight on the early formation of discriminatory practices, which some studies have linked to developing during infancy.
“Professor Lee’s research recognizes childhood as a critical period of growth and possibility. It will enable teachers and researchers to work together to explore and develop educational approaches for young children”, said Jane Gaskell, the Dean of OISE. “We are grateful to the National Institutes of Health for this phenomenal investment in the education research being conducted at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto by Professor Kang Lee and his research team.”
NIH is a component of the US Department of Health and Human Services with twenty-seven Institutes and Centers. The mission of the organization is to seek “fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and the application of that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce the burdens of illness and disability.” This project is also supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD), an organized focused on studying human development and developmental disabilities.
Lee is working with an international research team to complete this study that includes academics from the University of Delaware, University of Sheffield, University of Victoria, Zhejiang Sci-Tech University in China, and the University of Exeter.
This study builds upon Lee’s research on stable and dynamic face processing in children and adults, which focuses upon perception, encoding, and recognition of different faces as well as how others’ gazes are detected and interpreted in different social contexts. Lee also studies lying in children and adults, specifically how children acquire the conceptual knowledge of lying and how children come to grips with the concept and moral implications of lying.
Dr. Lee is currently looking for volunteers to help with his study. Undergraduate students can contact him at 416 934 4597, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.