Monday, January 14, 2008

Face perception after no experience of faces

This work really nails down the fact that face processing is a special perceptual process and is organized as such at birth, as contrasted with having its origin in a more general-purpose perceptual system that becomes specialized after frequent visual experiences. Sugita has studied face perception in monkeys reared with no exposure to faces. Here is his abstract, and one figure from the paper:
Infant monkeys were reared with no exposure to any faces for 6–24 months. Before being allowed to see a face, the monkeys showed a preference for human and monkey faces in photographs, and they discriminated human faces as well as monkey faces. After the deprivation period, the monkeys were exposed first to either human or monkey faces for a month. Soon after, the monkeys selectively discriminated the exposed species of face and showed a marked difficulty in regaining the ability to discriminate the other nonexposed species of face. These results indicate the existence of an experience-independent ability for face processing as well as an apparent sensitive period during which a broad but flexible face prototype develops into a concrete one for efficient processing of familiar faces.

Figure: An infant monkey and her living circumstance. An infant monkey and a caregiver with (A) and without (B) a facemask. Both photos were taken after the face-deprivation period. (C) Toys placed in the monkey's home cage. (D) Decorations provided around the home cage.

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