Kinship verification has a number of applications such as organizing large collections of images and recognizing resemblances among humans. In this paper, first, a human study is conducted to understand the capabilities of human mind and to identify the discriminatory areas of a face that facilitate kinship-cues. The visual stimuli presented to the participants determine their ability to recognize kin relationship using the whole face as well as specific facial regions. The effect of participant gender and age and kin-relation pair of the stimulus is analyzed using quantitative measures such as accuracy, discriminability index d', and perceptual information entropy. Utilizing the information obtained from the human study, a hierarchical kinship verification via representation learning (KVRL) framework is utilized to learn the representation of different face regions in an unsupervised manner. We propose a novel approach for feature representation termed as filtered contractive deep belief networks (fcDBN). The proposed feature representation encodes relational information present in images using filters and contractive regularization penalty. A compact representation of facial images of kin is extracted as an output from the learned model and a multi-layer neural network is utilized to verify the kin accurately. A new WVU kinship database is created, which consists of multiple images per subject to facilitate kinship verification. The results show that the proposed deep learning framework (KVRL-fcDBN) yields the state-of-the-art kinship verification accuracy on the WVU kinship database and on four existing benchmark data sets. Furthermore, kinship information is used as a soft biometric modality to boost the performance of face verification via product of likelihood ratio and support vector machine based approaches. Using the proposed KVRL-fcDBN framework, an improvement of over 20% is observed in the performance of face verification. © 1992-2012 IEEE.