The capacity to tell the difference between two faces within an infrequently experienced face group (e.g. other species, other race) declines from 6 to 9 months of age unless infants learn to match these faces with individual-level names. Similarly, the use of individual-level labels can also facilitate differentiation of a group of non-face objects (strollers). This early learning leads to increased neural specialization for previously unfamiliar face or object groups. The current investigation aimed to determine whether early conceptual learning between 6 and 9 months leads to sustained behavioral advantages and neural changes in these same children at 4-6 years of age. Results suggest that relative to a control group of children with no previous training and to children with infant category-level naming experience, children with early individual-level training exhibited faster response times to human faces. Further, individual-level training with a face group - but not an object group - led to more adult-like neural responses for human faces. These results suggest that early individual-level learning results in long-lasting process-specific effects, which benefit categories that continue to be perceived and recognized at the individual level (e.g. human faces).
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© 2014 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.