Face perception is not innate

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Chapter 5 endnote 32, from How Emotions are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett.
Some context is:

Infants are born unable to see faces. They have no perceptual concept of “Face” and so are experientially blind.

Early experiments show that mere minutes after birth, babies prefer to look at faces and face-like patterns.[1][2] Essentialist thinking lured scientists to believe that babies were born with an innate concept of faces, but careful experiments showed that babies are drawn to faces because babies have more general visual preferences that are not specific to faces per se.[3][4][5][6]

Interestingly, neonates prefer both human and non-human primate faces before tuning specifically to human faces.[7][8][9] This is also true for voices. Within first year of life, human infants learn to focus specifically on correspondences between human faces and vocalizations.[10][11][12]


Notes on the Notes

  1. Goren, Carolyn C., Merrill Sarty, and Paul YK Wu. 1975. "Visual following and pattern discrimination of face-like stimuli by newborn infants." Pediatrics 56 (4): 544-549.
  2. Morton, John, and Mark H. Johnson. 1991. "CONSPEC and CONLERN: a two-process theory of infant face recognition." Psychological Review 98 (2): 164-181.
  3. De Heering, Adélaïde, Chiara Turati, Bruno Rossion, Hermann Bulf, Valérie Goffaux, and Francesca Simion. 2008. "Newborns’ face recognition is based on spatial frequencies below 0.5 cycles per degree." Cognition 106 (1): 444-454.
  4. Gava, Lucia, Eloisa Valenza, Chiara Turati, and Scania de Schonen. 2008. "Effect of partial occlusion on newborns’ face preference and recognition." Developmental Science 11 (4): 563-574.
  5. Simion, Francesca, Irene Leo, Chiara Turati, Eloisa Valenza, and Beatrice Dalla Barba. 2007. "How face specialization emerges in the first months of life." Progress in Brain Research 164: 169-185.
  6. Turati, Chiara, Elisa Di Giorgio, Lara Bardi, and Francesca Simion. 2010. "Holistic face processing in newborns, 3‐month‐old infants, and adults: Evidence from the composite face effect." Child Development 81 (6): 1894-1905.
  7. Di Giorgio, Elisa, Irene Leo, Olivier Pascalis, and Francesca Simion. 2012. "Is the face-perception system human-specific at birth?" Developmental Psychology 48 (4): 1083-1090.
  8. Pascalis, Olivier, Michelle de Haan, and Charles A. Nelson. 2002. "Is face processing species-specific during the first year of life?" Science 296 (5571): 1321-1323.
  9. Scott, Lisa S., and Alexandra Monesson. 2009. "The origin of biases in face perception." Psychological Science 20 (6): 676-680.  
  10. Lewkowicz, David J., and Asif A. Ghazanfar. 2009. "The emergence of multisensory systems through perceptual narrowing." Trends in Cognitive Sciences 13 (11): 470-478.
  11. Lewkowicz, David J., Irene Leo, and Francesca Simion. 2010. "Intersensory perception at birth: newborns match nonhuman primate faces and voices." Infancy 15 (1): 46-60.
  12. Pons, Ferran, David J. Lewkowicz, Salvador Soto-Faraco, and Núria Sebastián-Gallés. 2009. "Narrowing of intersensory speech perception in infancy." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106 (26): 10598-10602.