It is said that children do not fully achieve the adult level of skill at recognizing faces until they are 14 to 16 years of age. So then, how are children able to recognize and remember new faces? Small children rely on two different types of classifications, the first being feature information. For example, the size of eye, the size and shape of ears, the size and shape of the nose, if a beard is present or not, and so on. This is the basic information that kids use, but as they grow they start to rely on what we call configural information. This first recognizes the parts of the face, eyes over nose, two ears, and mouth above the chin. Secondly, configural information pertains to the space between facial features, like the distance between a person’s eyes.
The first part of configural information is important in determining that a face is a face while the second is important for telling the difference between all faces. However, since small children depend heavily on features, they have a difficult time when any of the features on a recognized face change. When a parent shaves their beard, takes on or off glasses, or even puts on an unrecognizable hat, it may result in confusion for young children. This is especially prevalent during the holiday season, during Halloween, the plethora of costumes, masks, and make up, make for an abundance of new, never before seen identities.
Luckily, children are much more adept at processing and memorizing factual information than faces. The difference is in the prefrontal cortex, where working memory (also known as short term memory) is stored. When memorizing faces, children are relying on facial features than can changed or covered like hair, beard, mustache, eyes, etc. While when actively engaging working memory, their minds are flexible and creative. This contrast adults whose prefrontal cortex are fully developed leading them to experience functional fixedness, meaning they see things as they are.
The ability to adapt and change is what allows kids to learn in certain cases faster than adults and have an exceptional memory. However, just like any other skill, working memory has to be trained, and we can do this in a variety of ways. By playing visual memory games, participating in active reading (note-taking, highlighting, talking out loud), stimulating more than one sense at a time(sight, sound, touch), and visualization through drawing are all common ways to improve working memory. As such, these are all topics that we have carefully integrated into the activities on our platform to ensure the short term memory capabilities in children prosper.