Compared with notable successes in the genetics of basic sensory transduction, progress on the genetics of higher level perception and cognition has been limited. We propose that investigating specific cognitive abilities with well-defined neural substrates, such as face recognition, may yield additional insights. In a twin study of face recognition, we found that the correlation of scores between monozygotic twins (0.70) was more than double the dizygotic twin correlation (0.29), evidence for a high genetic contribution to face recognition ability. Low correlations between face recognition scores and visual and verbal recognition scores indicate that both face recognition ability itself and its genetic basis are largely attributable to face-specific mechanisms. The present results therefore identify an unusual phenomenon: a highly specific cognitive ability that is highly heritable. Our results establish a clear genetic basis for face recognition, opening this intensively studied and socially advantageous cognitive trait to genetic investigation.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Our face recognition capability has a strong genetic component
While we have strong evidence for genetic effects on basic sensory processes (such as inherited color vision defects) evidence for genetic control of specific higher cognitive processes - (as distinct, for example, from more multi-domain processes like general intelligence or 'g') - has been harder to obtain. Wilmer et al. (open access) now report twin studies that offer strong evidence that face recognition ability has a strong genetic component, and that experience or environment plays a surprisingly small role. People are not 'all face recognition experts,' and this variation has now been shown to have a largely genetic basis: