Present studies on the development of face perception mechanisms are ambiguous about the question
of whether holistic face vision arises early, or in the second decade of life (Crooks & McKone, 2009).
Measuring the time course of face matching we assess effects of context and inversion as correlates of
holistic processing in the microgenesis of face perception within the first 650 ms, and compare among 8- to
10-year-old children and adults. Results for adults indicate dominance of holistic viewing at brief timings,
which is gradually replaced by feature selective strategies enabling them to selectively attend either internal
or external features, as demanded by instruction. For children, however, effects of context and inversion are
absent at brief timings, but gradually increase to strong levels with increasing viewing times. Moreover, we
find a pronounced asymmetry in face matching performance with internal and external features. While face
matching by attending external features is well developed and robust against variable facial contexts, face
matching by attending internal features is generally poor, and strongly affected by interleaved congruent
and incongruent contextual information. These results indicate that children and adults differ not only in
the kind of featural information they preferentially encode in face perception, but also in the processing
time they need to build holistic representations. While these are fast and automatic in adults’ face vision,
children’s face representations are part based at brief timings, but develop to integrated wholes as more
temporal resources are made available.