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University of Toronto awarded $1.84M to advance facial recognition research

Education psychology research may lead to treatment for autism

By Kate Brand

June 14, 2010

Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) Professor Kang Lee has received US$1.84 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to lead an interdisciplinary, international team of researchers to study the development of face processing in infants and children around the world. This is the first comprehensive large-scale research program of its kind and the first major NIH grant awarded to OISE.

“How typically developing infants and children recognize, perceive and categorize human faces and their development over time provides greater insight into development problems, such as autism,” said Lee.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), commonly known as autism, is a neurological disorder that causes developmental disability. Individuals with ASD often have difficulty with communication and social interaction, as well as unusual patterns of activities, interests, and behaviour, such as atypical processing of faces.
According to the Autism Society of Canada, one in 165 children – or approximately 200,000 Canadians – have ASD. In the US, the numbers reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate one in 110 children – or approximately 730,000 American – have ASD.

Over the next five years, Lee’s team will systematically explore the best means to train infants and children between the ages of six months and 14 years of age to extract important facial characteristics and properties such as: gender, race, age, species, and identity.

“I hope the results of this research study will lay an important foundation for the development of evidence-based programs to help children with face processing deficits, including children with autism,” Lee said. 

The research team includes: Dr. Paul C. Quinn, Professor of Psychology, University of Delaware; Dr. Olivier Pascalis, Senior Lecturer of Psychology, University of Sheffield; Dr. James William Tanaka, Professor of Psychology, University of Victoria; Dr. Liezhong Ge, Professor of Psychology, Zhejiang Sci-Tech University in China; and Dr. Alan Slater, Associate Professor, University of Exeter.

“We are grateful to the National Institutes of Health for this phenomenal investment in the education research being conducted at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto by Professor Kang Lee and his research team,” said Professor Jane Gaskell, dean of OISE.

“Professor Lee’s research recognizes childhood as a critical period of growth and possibility. It will enable teachers and researchers to work together to explore and develop educational approaches for young children.”

Professor Lee joined the University of Toronto in 2005 as Professor and Director of the Institute of Child Study at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. He has also taught at Queen’s University, Zhejiang Normal University, and Beijing Normal University in China, and was previously a faculty member at the University of California San Diego. He was recently named a Fellow of the Association of Psychological Science.

NIH is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services with 27 Institutes and Centers. It is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases.

This project is supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development or the National Institutes of Health.