The structure of face cognition in childhood and adolescence: in search of social intelligence
Because of their relevance in everyday life there is an increasing amount of research about social abilities. However, the structure of individual differences in so-called “social intelligence” has not yet been studied. Here we take a differential-psychological approach to investigate the important social ability of face cognition - the ability to perceive, memorize and correctly recognize human faces. We provide findings from a study about age differences in the means and covariance structure of face cognition abilities from ages 6 to 21 years. Using multiple measurements, based on a large sample of participants (N = 338) and analyzing the internal structure of face cognition with Local Structural Equation Modelling (LSEM), we were able to arrive at the following conclusions. Face cognition in childhood and adolescence can be represented as a two-factorial model including face perception and memory. LSEM revealed a slight increase of factor loadings on face perception and memory across age, occurring between 8 and 12 years and after 16 years. The relationship between face perception and memory was, however, invariant from childhood to young adulthood (r = .78). Factor means showed a slight significant improvement of face perception and memory across participant age. Thus, we suggest for discussion that this approach could extend the understanding of “social intelligence”.