“There is still room for improvement after years
of learning faces.” — IsaBel GautHIer
Face memory skill peaks after 30
By Bruce Bower
Youth is wasted on the
young, but not for face memory. In an unexpected discovery, scientists have found
that people between ages 30
and 34 are best at remembering unfamiliar faces.
Many researchers think
word skills, memory and
other mental functions crest
in the early 20s, as the brain
attains full maturity. Consistent with that belief, memory
for names and upside-down
faces — a task that requires recognition of
general visual patterns — hits a high point
at ages 23 to 24, a team led by psychology graduate student Laura Germine of
Harvard University reports in an upcoming issue of Cognition.
But in an unanticipated twist, face
learning takes about a decade longer to
be the best it can be, the researchers find
Volunteers viewed a face from three angles (top),
then tried to distinguish it from two others (bottom).
in online experiments conducted with
44,680 volunteers, ages 10 to 70.
“Specialized face processing in the
brain may require an extended period of
visual tuning during early adulthood to
help individuals learn and recognize lots
of different faces,” Germine says.
Although researchers have not pre-
viously looked for late-developing face
memory, the new findings fit with evi-
dence that a brain structure crucial
for face recognition—the fusiform
gyrus — undergoes reorganization
at least through young adulthood,
says psychologist Isabel Gauthier of
Vanderbilt University in Nashville.
Gauthier hypothesizes that this brain
area underlies all sorts of visual expertise,
with face recognition as its most promi-
nent achievement (SN: 7/7/01, p. 10).
in next pew over
religion aids well-being via
social networks, study finds
By Bruce Bower
When it comes to feeling good about one’s
life, friendliness is next to godliness.
Personal well-being blossoms among
U.S. adults who identify strongly with
their religion, regularly attend church
and have three or more close friends
in their congregation, say sociologists
Robert Putnam of Harvard University
and Chaeyoon Lim of the University of
group cite especially high levels of satisfaction regardless of how many or how
few friends they have outside their congregation, Lim and Putnam report in the
December American Sociological Revie w.
“Our evidence shows that it is not really
going to church and listening to sermons
or praying that makes people happier, but
making church-based friends and building social networks there,” Lim says.
The new findings apply to mainline and
evangelical Protestants and to Catholics.
Too few people from other religions were
surveyed to make comparisons.
Researchers have long noted that
religious people report higher levels of
happiness than nonreligious folk. Ana-
lyzing results of telephone surveys of
1,915 U.S. adults in 2006 and 2007, Lim
and Putnam found that people who
belong to a congregation but have no
friends there report less satisfaction with
their lives than those who don’t attend
religious services or who are religious but
have no congregation. In other words,
sitting alone in the pew does not make
for a happy life.